But independents are not a monolithic group. While many in the media and public view them as the 'moderate middle' searching for the noble compromise between two intractably feuding parties, this is simply NOT true. Independents (who make up 25-30% of the electorate) are located all along the partisan spectrum.
A recently completed Washington Post/Henry J. Kaiser Foundation/Harvard University survey profiling the independent voter's diversity was reported in Sunday's WaPo. The results are fascinating - and, despite what the MSM is saying, the independent voter agrees with the Democratic base when it comes to Iraq!
Political strategists and observers make a mistake by treating these voters as one voting bloc. The media, in their never-ending quest to simplify the complex, promote the "independents as moderate" meme, providing politicians cover and an excuse to govern without conviction. We've grown weary of the familiar refrain, "The Democrats can't move too far to the left and appease their "partisan" anti-war extremist base for fear of offending the all-important independents."
The full WaPo survey can be found here (pdf!!). The responses to the poll's three Iraq-related questions reveal that independent voters are aligned with the Democratic base and want action on Iraq.
The three critical questions:
#36/37: "All in all, considering the costs to the US versus the benefits to the US, do you think the war with Iraq is worth fighting, or not? Do you feel STRONGLY that way or NOT?
"NOT WORTH FIGHTING" Responses: Indies 67%, Dems 85%, GOP 28%, Overall = 62%
#38: "Do you think the goal of bringing stability to Iraq is still possible, or not?"
"NOT POSSIBLE" Responses: Indies 62%, Dems 73%, GOP 35%, Overall = 58%
#39: "Do you think (the US must win the war in Iraq in order for the broader war on terrorism to be a success) or do you think (the war on terrorism can be a success without the US winning the war in Iraq)? (answers rotated)
"WINNING IRAQ NOT NECESSARY" Responses: Indies 62%, Dems 70%, GOP 35%, Overall = 56%
On EVERY Iraq-related question, nearly 6 of 10 independents are in the "anti-war extremist camp."
It's time for the Democratic leaders to understand this and act. If they don't it's not only the Democratic base that will punish them, but they could find the all-important independents abandoning them, as well.
The Kaiser/Harvard poll uses cluster analysis to break down this diverse group into five distinct categories, the Disengaged (24% of indies), the Disillusioned (18%), the Dislocated (16%), Deliberators (18%) and Disguised Partisans (24%). The characteristics of each group are fascinating and reveal where the Democrats should focus their energies.
The Disguised Partisans. The Democrats within this group are indies mainly because they are frustrated and angry with the Democratic Party. The Post describes this group as:
"Walking and talking Democrats, these independents lean overwhelmingly toward the Democratic Party; two-thirds always or mostly support Democratic presidential candidates.
They are more tuned in to government and politics than rank-and-file Democrats, and 13 percent said they get a lot of information about politics from blogs (the most of any group)."
This group agrees with the Dems' progressive ideology and but there is danger lurking as 93% believe Iraq is not worth fighting. More than 75% indicating they would consider voting for an independent candidate in 2008, the risk of losing these voters increases with more Iraq capitulations.
The Dislocated: Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, 46% define themselves as "progressive." Clearly, this group leans toward Democrats (57% voted for Kerry, 60% voted Dem in 06), particularly in the wake of the recently deposed GOP Congress' uncontrolled spending. The way to keep these voters is to increase transparency - and it behooves Democrats to get out in front on the issue of earmarks. More than 8 in 10 view Iraq as not worth fighting. This group is more "anti-war" than the extremist base, too.
The Disillusioned: This group feels the system is broken and are not happy with either party. They're furious with Bush and Iraq. The WaPo defines says further:
"Bush and the war are crucial components of the disillusionment.
Three-quarters say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and just two in 10 think it is still possible to stabilize the country.
Fifty-seven percent call Bush the worst modern president.
For 2008, this group leans Democratic, but high levels of disenchantment could keep them home. They would also welcome an independent candidacy."
The Deliberators: These are the true independent swing voters - and note: they make up less than 20% of the 30% of the independent vote! They swung HUGE between '04 and '06 elections, as Bush received 66% of their support and the Dems won 52% in the midterms. Even a majority of voters within this group (55%) do not feel Iraq is worth the cost. This group will support the party and candidates that show competence.
The Disengaged: Forget about 'em. They represent 3% of voters and don't tend to vote.
Independents are Democratic-leaning voters. They are opposed to the War in Iraq. These numbers reveal that moderation isn't what a majority of independents want. They crave leadership, particularly on Iraq.
Are the Democratic leaders listening?