“Independent” Voter Poll Analysis Is Mostly Useless


I can’t take it any more. This drives me absolutely up a wall (and I’m certainly not alone). 

From the IBD/TIPP poll write-up:

A key swing group making up nearly a third of voters, independents favor Romney over Obama 52%-34%.

Independent swing voters make up around a third of voters? No, they don’t. 

From Ed Morrissey at HotAir:

[Polling on “Independents”] suggests that some of the assumptions built into the pollster models are still leaning too far to 2008, and that Romney is actually in better shape than those toplines suggest.

The vote split among “Independents,” as broken out by most polls tells us a lot about the state of the race? No, it doesn’t.

Why? Because most of the “Independent” voters in polls lean toward one or the other party. 

More from Ed Morrissey at HotAir:

Some argue, though, that these independents are in some significant part Republicans who aren’t affiliating themselves with the GOP. That, however, doesn’t make much sense. 

But it does make a lot of sense. And this isn’t really an argument. It’s just a matter of looking at some facts, some data. These Leaners are, at the very least, as partisan as “Not-Strong” Republicans and Democrats. In fact, in 2010 Leaners of both parties were substantially more partisan than “Not-Strong” identifiers, and Dem Leaners were more partisan in 2008. 

Here are the numbers from the vote-validated CCES 2010 data, with vote for House candidates:

So, why don’t these partisan voters, who vote 85-95 percent for one party or the other, self-identify with one of the two major parties? It could be for a host of reasons . . . 

Leaners in both parties are more ideological than those who weakly identify with a party. Some of them vote 100 percent for one party, but consider it ideologically wanting, corrupt, compromised. They aren’t “Party” people. Think Tea Party folks, libertarians, hard-core Progressives and Greens. The Democratic Party to a Progressive? A bunch of corporate sellouts and compromisers. But most of them will pull the lever 9 times out of 10 for the Democratic candidate. Same goes for most Tea Partiers and libertarians.

So Mitt Romney is winning “Indies” going away? Great . . . better than not doing so. But in order to say anything at all about what it means for the race, we need to know the split in Leaners and the split among Pure Independents, who really do throw in about 50/50 for each party.

But analyzing the muddled lump of “Independent” voters that most polls break out for public consumption is likely to be a frustrating and pointless use of time. 

There are 9 comments.

  1. Member

    Adam, great insight here on the nature of “Independents.” It reminds me of how often I’ve heard a very conservative talk show host or guest say that he was a NOT registered Republican.

    One question on your table, under the “House Vote Breakdown,” should the Republican column figure for Indies be 37% (as opposed to the 100% showing)? The other column pairs in that table add up to 100. Just curious.

    • #1
    • October 10, 2012 at 7:53 am
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  2. Contributor
    Adam Schaeffer Post author

    Many thanks for catching that Brasidas . . . corrected now! You can see Pure Indies went Republican in the House vote 2010 . . . they were about 50/50 on the 2008 Presidential vote.

    • #2
    • October 10, 2012 at 8:06 am
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  3. Member

    Wow. Quite a swing for Indies to the right then from 2008 to 2010. 

    • #3
    • October 10, 2012 at 8:36 am
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  4. Member

    So, why don’t these partisan voters, who vote 85-95 percent for one party or the other, self-identify with one of the two major parties?

    I changed my party affiliation to independent out of disgust. I just didn’t want the Republican party taking my vote for granted any longer.

    • #4
    • October 10, 2012 at 8:44 am
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  5. Member

    I have always thought self identification was a worthless metric for any type of polling data other than it might help you chosse words when phrasing a marketing campaigin in a specific region. The same goes for Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. A lot of people call themselves Pro-Life but when you get into the details there beliefs are the same as a majority of self identify Pro-Choicers.

    • #5
    • October 10, 2012 at 8:58 am
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  6. Member

    Great analysis. The basic flaw in the standard discussions of independent voters is to assume they view themselves as “the middle” and vacillate between the two major parties. In fact, a huge number of independents are more extreme than either party and vote for the major party candidate closest to their own strong views.

    • #6
    • October 10, 2012 at 9:23 am
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  7. Member

    In addition, some states don’t have party registration on the voter rolls at all. Technically, everyone is an “Independent”.

    • #7
    • October 10, 2012 at 10:02 am
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  8. Coolidge

    I’m registered as an independent for two reasons. First, I don’t agree with the Republican Party on some issues, even though (since 2001) I now consistently vote Republican. Of course, I imagine that’s true of many who choose to register as Republican.

    For me, the bigger reason is that by answering “independent,” I’m essentially saying “none of your business.” I fail to see why I should be expected to tell the government, in advance, what my political opinions are. The only place I’m going to do that is in the voting booth.

    • #8
    • October 10, 2012 at 11:12 am
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  9. Contributor
    Adam Schaeffer Post author

    Thanks for adding all of the personal color to this . . . it definitely makes sense to me as well. I don’t think very highly of the Republican Party per se, but we all face a decision with essentially only two options. And the Republican candidate is almost always the lesser of two evils.

    • #9
    • October 11, 2012 at 3:15 am
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