A recent study by the Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University finds that three out of ten Americans identify as “independent.” Yesterday’s Washington Post has an illuminating article summarizing the study’s main findings, “Independents: Who and How Many?”
Jon Cohen writes:
Through the 1950s and 1960s, about a quarter of adults identified themselves as independents in the NES. That percentage first hit 30 in 1968 and averaged about a third throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. This decade, the NES estimate of the number of independents has crept toward four in 10, with 39 percent calling themselves independents in the 2004 study. National exit polls typically record fewer “independents” among actual voters (independents are less likely than partisans to vote).
The first national exit poll, conducted in 1972 by CBS News and the New York Times, reported that 19 percent of Election Day voters were independents. In 1976, that number jumped to 34 percent and has hovered around a quarter of the electorate since 1980. In the midterm election this past November, 27 percent said they were independent, according to the exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool.
When pressed, even partisans consider themselves independents. For example, about four in ten Democrats and Republicans alike said they occasionally consider themselves to be independents. If everyone is so independent, it seems contradictory that independents accepted partisan identification as well. Two-thirds of self-identified independents said they tend to identify with one of the two major parties. Some analysts consider independents “closet partisans,” with only around ten percent, being “true” independents.
I suspect this is the case. Most independents are not only closet partisans but radical partisans. Many left independents decry the centrism and neo-liberalism of Bill Clinton’s administration and are angry when the Democratic party fails to implement their pet “progressive” policies. They claim to be independent but rairly vote for third party candidates at the local, state, or national level. On the right, populists and nativists are angry Republicans have abandonned “real” conservatism becoming RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) but the vast majority of independent conservatives stick with the establishment party.
You can read the full report here.