John Sides of The Monkey Cage doesn’t believe you when you say that you’re an independent voter. Most self-described independents are actually Bill O’Reilly style independents. That is, only in name. In truth, they are closet partisans.
When asked a follow-up question, the vast majority of independents state that they lean toward a political party. They are the “independent leaners.” Here is the distribution of partisans (who subsequently identified as strong or weak), independent leaners, and “pure” independents, from 1952-2008:
The number of pure independents is actually quite small — perhaps 10% or so of the population. And this number has been decreasing, not increasing, since the mid-1970s.
I think of the modern “independent” as having an opposite approach to politics that I do. I’m a self-declared Libertarian by philosophy, and I hold a lot of basic Libertarian beliefs: property rights are essential; low taxes are good; keep government out of doing things it is bad at–which is most things; legalize ALL drugs; etc.
But, I’ve never voted for anyone in my life who wasn’t a Democrat! And that isn’t likely to change. In fact, I’m a vocal and proud Democratic partisan, and encourage other Libertarians to be as well (a tough battle, to say the least). So, while I don’t share the standard belief structures that most Democrats and liberals do, I still register as one. I’m a partisan without partisan beliefs.
Modern day independents are the opposite. They SAY they don’t hold the beliefs of any one party, and declare their independence by not registering with either one. But, when pressed, their ideology is right in line with one or the other. And their voting record confirms that.
But, do should we even care about what independents do at all?
And one further take-away: 90% of the public is partisan and about 80-90% of those voters vote for their party’s candidate. This is why the story of presidential elections is so often a story about partisans and not the fence-sitters who CNN recruits for debate dial groups.
Except in the closest of elections, the potential voting patterns of pure independents isn’t important. Most independents are really just donkeys (or elephants) in sheep’s clothing.