A key to understanding the mindset of Independent voters is to compare their views on the right direction/wrong track with the views of Republicans and Democrats. Independents are always somewhere in between the two partisan groups — but the key is which partisan group are Independents closer to at any point in time — which I’ve dubbed “The Mood Gap.”
In 2006 and 2008, the mood of Independents was a lot closer to the mood of Democrats than Republicans. And, ultimately, Independents gave Dems a significant advantage at the ballot box. This year, the mood of Independents is much closer to the mood of Republicans about the direction of the country.
In April 2006, our national polling found just 8% of Dems said the country was going in the right direction, while 86% said wrong track — a net -78 negative mood. Independents weren’t far different — at 18% RD/73% WT, they were a net -55 negative. However, Republicans were a +8 — 47% RD/39% WT. Thus, Independents were only 23 net points different than Democrats (23 points being the difference between -78 and -55), while Indies were 63 net points different from GOPers (63 points being the difference between -55 and +8) in that spring before that fateful election. Thus, the Mood Gap showed Independents MUCH closer to Dems than GOPers.
In 2008, the gap was a bit smaller, but still Independents were closer to the Dems. In March of that year, Dems were a 10% right direction/81% wrong track split on that question (for a -71), while Independents were 13% RD/69% WT — a -56. GOPers had turned negative (and got much more pessimistic once the financial meltdown occured) to a 36% RD/44% WT tune (-8). Thus, Independents were only 15 net points away from Dems but still 48 points from GOPers.
However, our most recent national survey found Independents looking more like GOPers than Dems. Republicans break 8% right direction/89% wrong track (net -81), while Independents are 21% RD/73% WT — a net -52. Dems are optimistic by a 51% RD/41% WT margin, which is a +10. Thus, while there is a 29 point net gap between GOPers and Independents, there is a 62 point net mood gap between Independents and Dems.
Just like everything else, the mood of the country can shift between now and November. At this point in time, however, it is good news for Republicans that the Mood Gap is in their favor, as Independents are now thinking more like Republicans about the direction of the country.