Obama and the 'Independent' Voter

American Prospect blogger Jamelle Bouie examines the myth of the independent voter, saying that most members of the electorate lean Democratic or Republican.

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In a blog entry at the American Prospect, Jamelle Bouie breaks down the varying degrees of independent voters, saying that most members of the electorate lean Democratic or Republican. But in the middle are those he describes as "weak partisan leaners." He discusses how their votes will shake out in 2012 for President Barack Obama, who captured 52 percent of independent voters in 2008.

Among political scientists, it’s well known that the “independent voter” is a myth. When pressed, the large majority of voters lean Democratic or Republican and tend to vote like partisans, consistently supporting their party of choice. The only difference between a strong partisan and a “weak partisan leaner” is that the latter are reluctant -- for whatever reason -- to place themselves in one camp or the other.

Over the last few years, this myth of the independent voter has taken hold among political journalists and others outside of academia. In its latest report on the 2012 election, centrist Democratic think tank Third Way perpetuates it. Instead of straightforwardly noting that the Obama campaign needs to reach for Democratic leaners, they’ve constructed the “Obama Independent,” which is basically the same thing:

"In 2008, President Obama won 52% of Independent voters. All signs point to an even bigger role for them in 2012; in fact, our recent analysis of voter registration numbers in eight key battleground states shows that Democratic registration is down 5.6% since 2008, while Independent registration is up 3.4%. But many analysts lump all Independents together, when in fact there are currently two very distinct groups of Independent voters: those who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 ('Obama Independents') and those who voted for John McCain ('McCain Independents').

According to Third Way, “Obama Independents” are the most moderate voters, with 60 percent identifying as such. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the most liberal and 5 is the most conservative, these voters are 2.73 (compared to “McCain Independents” -- weak Republican leaners -- who score a 3.73).

Read Jamelle Bouie's entire blog entry at the American Prospect. 

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