Q&A: What’s up with Independents?

Election Day 2014 is about a year away, so naturally political junkies across the political spectrum want to know…what’s up with Independents?

First, a brief recap of the “Independent vote” over the last decade. In the last five Congressional elections, according to national exit polls, majorities of Independents have voted for Congressional candidates from the opposite party of the incumbent President.

In 2004, 2006, and 2008 more Independents voted for Democrats in the Congressional elections and supported Kerry (’04) and Obama (’08). In 2010 and 2012 Independents voted for Republicans in the Congressional elections and supported Romney (’12).

chart 1

But, what about 2014…

  • Will Independents vote even more heavily for Republicans than in 2012 or will the margin continue to taper off, as it did from 2010 to 2012?
  • Will President Obama help or hurt Democrat candidates among Independent voters in 2014?
  • Aren’t today’s Independents just yesterday’s Republican voters?

To turn these questions into answers, let’s look at the merge data from the NBC-WSJ surveys conducted in 2010, 2012, and in 2013 among Independents:

Q: Will Independents vote even more heavily for Republicans than in 2012 or will the margin continue to taper off, as it did from 2010 to 2012?
A: Electorally, Independent voters report a stronger preference for a Republican-controlled Congress in 2014 than they did in 2010.

Independents are among the groups with the highest net change in preference for a Republican-controlled Congress from 2012 to 2013.

The margins we have recorded in the summer of 2013 are already a tick higher than the margins in all of 2010.

table 1

Q: Will President Obama help or hurt Democrat candidates among Independent voters in 2014?  
A: Attitudinally, Independents in 2013 are more negative about the direction of the country and President Obama than they were in 2012.

Across the two surveys conducted in the third quarter of 2013, Independents give increasingly low marks across these key measures.

table 2

Q: Aren’t today’s Independents just yesterday’s Republican voters?  
A: No. In fact, demographically, Independents look a lot like they did in 2010 and 2012. 

As the table below indicates, Independent registered voters interviewed in 2010, 2012, and 2013 have a remarkably consistent demographic makeup.  This is not unlike Democrats and Republicans, who also exhibit the same consistency in merge data across the same time period.

At the margins, there have been margin of error increases in the percentage of seniors (age 65+), whites, and ideological conservatives that more closely resemble the 2010 Independent profile but from year to year across a few thousand interviews, these profiles are remarkably consistent.

table 3

Bottom line

The NBC-WSJ merge data provides some valuable insights among Independents as we approach the 2014 election:

  • They prefer a Republican-controlled Congress in 2014 by a much wider margin than they did in 2012 and slightly more than in 2010.
  • They are increasingly negative about the direction of the country and President Obama.
  • They are demographically consistent with Independents in 2012 and 2010.

This all bodes well for Republican prospects in 2014.

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