The race is on between both parties to win over independent voters and the key questions will be (1) which party can do it and (2) which party’s dominant ideological base will try to put a stop to efforts to broaden its party’s coalition.
A look at some news stories shows the growing theme of the independent voter. Here’s a cross section:
–Public Opinion Strategies’ Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse have some advice for GOPers who want to win and for the party in general. In includes this:
Ultimately, it’s all about the independents.
Republican candidates were shellacked in 2006 and 2008 among independent voters.
Independents believe the country is on the wrong track, and they want balance in Washington rather than overwhelming control of government by one party. A Public Policy Polling survey just before the Massachusetts election found that 20 percent of voters did not like either party, but those voters opted for Brown by 71 to 23 percent. If the country is experiencing a referendum on the party in power, independents are voting for change.
–-Republicans hope to make gains in the Northeast after a near wipe out in recent years and independent voters figure mightily in the calculations:
The independents who swing New England elections abandoned the party as the Bush era drew to a close. They were in revolt over the war in Iraq, the struggling economy and the strong strain of Southern social conservatism that was dominating national Republican politics. It was crushing for the remaining Republicans in a section of the country that once saw itself as the foundation of the party.
But Republicans see Mr. Brown’s win — and an earlier victory in the New Jersey governor’s race — as evidence that independents are moving back their way, a possible harbinger of good things to come. They point to Delaware, where Mr. Castle, a longtime leader among moderate Republicans, is now the favorite to win that race in November since Joseph R. Biden III, the state attorney general and son of the vice president, decided to forgo a challenge.
“I think there is a chance of resurgence in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic States,” Mr. Castle said, assessing the Massachusetts outcome. “It certainly opens up that possibility. The benefit of it is that people feel there is hope and opportunity. It has been very hard to attract candidates in those places.”
Mr. Brown’s victory has already produced some new Republican contenders, raising party hopes of reclaiming lost House and Senate territory. Republicans are mounting a strong effort to grab an open Senate seat in Connecticut, as well as two formerly Republican House seats in New Hampshire.
—President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Florida last week and their message was aimed at independent voters:
Amid declining poll numbers and political fortunes, President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to reconnect with the fickle state that helped put him in the White House and urged voters to keep the faith despite Florida’s withering recession.
He aimed his message at the coveted independent voters clustered in this part of Florida who broke with tradition in 2008 and cast ballots for the Democratic nominee. Independent voters have recently carried Republican candidates to statewide victories in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey, raising the GOP’s hopes for the 2010 election.
–In Arizona, the number of registered voters is falling as the number of independent voters increases:
The ranks of Independent voters in Arizona is growing even as the overall number of registered voters shrinks.
Figures released Friday by Secretary of State Ken Bennett show “Independent, unaffiliated or members of an unrecognized political party” numbered 929,219 as of Jan. 1, up 13,238 from the previous quarter.
Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are losing voters.
The latest numbers show GOP registration fell to 1,127,649, down 5,168 voters from the Oct. 1 report. The Democratic Party had 1,034,395 registered voters, a drop of 7,020. Libertarian registration grew slightly to 24,826 voters, up 798.
Overall, the number of registered voters in the state declined for the first time in 18 months.
As of Jan. 1, there were 3,116,089 active, registered voters in Arizona, 2,389 fewer than the previous quarter.
–Independent voters will play a big role in Wisconsin’s 2010 Governor’s race:
The Wisconsin independent voter is again poised to play a pivotal role – this time in the 2010 race for governor.
In 2008, independents leaned strongly Democratic with the election of Barack Obama, who took 56.2% of the vote in Wisconsin.
But this year, with an electorate angry over high unemployment, Wall Street shenanigans and ineffectual government, there are early signs that Republicans are capitalizing on voter malaise.
They posted victories for governor in Virginia and New Jersey in November. And then on Jan. 19, Republican Scott Brown won the U.S. Senate in Democratic-leaning Massachusetts.
“It’s kind of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately and Democrats have not performed well nationally,” said Joe Heim, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“What is surprising is how fast the pendulum has swung.”
Historically, Wisconsin’s electorate breaks down fairly evenly between Democrats, Republicans and independents.
“The key is that Democrats or Republicans alone don’t have enough votes to win the election,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at UW-Madison.
“They need some crossover from the other party. But most of what they need are the independents.”
–More than ever independent voters are showing that they can change allegiance quickly. The Seattle Times:
Forget the red-state, blue-state construct.
The real stunner of the Massachusetts Senate race was not just that independent voters outnumbered Democrats and Republicans combined in an ostensibly deep blue state. Or that they swung 2-1 for GOP upstart Scott Brown.
It was the terrifying velocity of their mood swing.
A year after Barack Obama rode to the White House on a wave of independent votes in swing states, Republicans have ridden that same wave in reverse to the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey and now “the Kennedy seat.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from mercurial Missouri, said the day after the upset, “In a state like mine, you’ve got to be really careful that you’re listening, especially to those independent voters. And clearly, the independent voters do not support what we’ve done so far.”
For partisans on the left and right who view independents as fickle, ill-informed rubes untethered to any ideological verities, this is really bad news.
For the House and Senate, where partisanship grows more ferocious by the day, it could spell total dysfunction — precisely the state of affairs independents seem to loathe.
Both parties seem “impervious to reality,” said Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina, the author of “Disconnect: the Breakdown of Representation in American Politics,” who contends the nation is not as polarized as many assume.
–Independent voters now outnumber registered Republicans and Democrats in at least 11 states.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.