The Independent vote in 2014: What’s up now?

According to the last five national exit polls, when a majority of Independents vote for Congressional candidates from one party, that party controls Congress.

Independents helped to flip the House of Representatives to Democrats in 2006 and they helped flip the House back to Republicans in 2010.

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My September 2013 post titled “What’s up with Independents?” was very encouraging for Republicans going into 2014. It showed Independents were a demographically stable and very supportive group who were increasingly negative toward President Obama and his policies.

Then the October government shutdown severely disrupted the momentum Republicans were experiencing with Independents.

NBC-WSJ polling shows among Independent registered voters, preference for a Republican controlled Congress in 2014 went from a 23 point advantage in September (48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} GOP-Controlled/25{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Dem-Controlled) to a seven point deficit in early October (27{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} GOP-Controlled/34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Dem-Controlled), a net 30 point swing in preference away from Republicans.

In the most recent NBC-WSJ poll, Independents favor Republican control of Congress by nine points (39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} GOP-controlled – 30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Dem-controlled). Independent voters’ preference for a GOP-controlled Congress has increased 12 percentage points, from 27{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} to 39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, since the early October low while preference for a Democrat-controlled Congress has slipped four points, from 34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} to 30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, over the same period of time.

In their first survey of the 2014 landscape, a cooperative endeavor conducted with Democracy Corps for NPR found Independent likely voters favoring a Republican candidate for Congress by 16 points (45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} GOP/29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} Dem).

The NPR survey asks a traditional generic congressional ballot among likely voters while NBC-WSJ asks registered voters which party they prefer control Congress. The difference in these results is not as important as the direction of the electorate they illuminate. 2014 will likely be the third straight election in which Independents vote for Republican Congressional candidates. The question is not who Independents vote for (the GOP) but by how much do they favor the GOP.

Later this week, I’ll take a look at Independents on some key issues facing voters in 2014.

Public Opinion Strategies