The disappearing ‘swing’ voter

Media villagers like to falsely equate people who are not registered with a political party, whom the media prefers to call “independents,” as being “moderates” and “swing voters.” Nothing is further from the truth, as I have posted the political science research to explain many times over the years. (Yet the media villagers persist).

Anne Kim at the Political Animal Blog has the latest research. The Last Swing Voters in America:

While “Independent” voters now make up the largest share of the electorate, most Independents – as many as 87%, according to the Pew Research Center – “lean” toward one party or another. Moreover, many Independents aren’t centrists – rather, they claim that label because they are further to the right or further to the left than the parties that most closely represent their views.

swinging-406x226The true size of the swing electorate is therefore much smaller than the growth in the number of “independent” voters implies. In fact, says a new survey by the research firm Lincoln Park Strategies, just 4% of the American electorate is truly independent – unaffiliated with a political party and ideologically in the middle.

Note: This is down from previous studies that pegged this number around 7%.

In a June 17-21 survey of 1,000 respondents, Lincoln Park found that only 21% of Americans – 10% Republican and 11% Democratic – consider themselves happy partisans whose personal ideological views are aligned with those of their chosen party. Meanwhile, 21% of Americans think of themselves as more conservative than the GOP, and 20% of Americans consider themselves more liberal than the Democratic Party. The plurality of Americans (22%) say they find themselves “stuck in the middle” – more conservative than Democrats but more liberal than Republicans.

stuck in the middle
Lincoln Park Strategies

Yet many of these “stuck in the middle” Americans, Lincoln Park finds, still identify with one party or another. When the firm cross-referenced ideological inclinations with party identification, the share of ideologically “stuck in the middle” Americans who also identify as nonpartisan Independents was just 4%.

This dismal finding is yet more proof of a shrinking political center as Americans become increasingly politically polarized. Nonetheless, says Lincoln Park Strategies President Stefan Hankin, this bloc of nonpartisan, non-ideological voters is a crucial bellwether for the elections this fall. “What they lack in size, they make up for in importance,” he says.

For one thing,  these unaffiliated, centrist Independents (whom Hankin dubs “Moderate Independents”) are still truly up for grabs. And as new polls continue to show a tightening presidential contest between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, every sliver of the electorate matters.

Lincoln Park found that fully half of these Moderate Independents haven’t yet made up their minds about their choice for President. Of the remainder, Clinton holds a 10-point edge over Trump, 23% to 13%, while 14% favor Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Neither Clinton nor Trump is popular with these voters, however.  While 62% hold an unfavorable view of Clinton, 71% hold an unfavorable view of Trump (including 61% who see Trump “very unfavorably”).

Demographically,  this group does not appear to be comprised of apathetic or low-information voters. According to Lincoln Park, 65% of the Moderate Independents in their survey have a college degree (compared to 46% for all self-identified Independents), and 27% are between the ages of 45 to 64. Just 32% are white and male.

It would be nice if the media villagers would refrain from mythologizing “independents” as “moderate” and “swing voters,” but I have little hope that they will do so. It does not fit their media narrative that Americans have rejected the two political parties, even though these so-called “independents” are actually “leaners” who will vote with one political party or the other.

9 thoughts on “The disappearing ‘swing’ voter”

  1. Yeah, keep blaming the voters instead of the politicians who give them nothing to vote for. How’s that been working for ya?

  2. I was good with this post up until the last half sentence, at which point I think it went entirely off the rails. Instead of this conclusion:

    “It would be nice if the media villagers would refrain from mythologizing “independents” as “moderate” and “swing voters,” but I have little hope that they will do so. It does not fit their media narrative that Americans have rejected the two political parties, even though these so-called “independents” are actually “leaners” who will vote with one political party or the other.”

    Shouldn’t the conclusion really be:

    “[Same first sentence]. It does not fit their media narrative of breathlessly covering every aspect of election campaigns as if all those details really matter to voters.”

    The conclusion as it appears in the post conflates “leaning to one party or the other” with “not rejecting the two political parties.” That’s not logical. Put aside the Independents. There are huge numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans who reject both parties, but register under one because they find it the less offensive of the two or, in some states, because they want to vote in primaries. Heck, there even are left-leaning voters in Arizona who register as Republicans because they think the primaries are more meaningful than the generals.

    Add up the Trump, Sanders, Rand Paul, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson supporters, together with those who don’t vote at all, and you have a rough measure of the floor for those who reject both political parties.

    When you think about it, the clear implication in AZBM’s conclusion is that the universe of “swing voters” and the universe of those who reject both parties is the same universe. That’s hardly true. Those on both the far right and the far left reject both parties but are anything but swing voters.

    So, really, the conclusion was a sleight of hand. Yes, the media engages in rank intellectual dishonesty with its talk about “swing voters.” But their motivation for doing so has nothing to do with their accurate meme regarding the rejection of both parties.

  3. I notice you didn’t mention jill stein. like the clinton networks who put gary johnson on all of the time jill stein on never. it didn’t work with ralph nader in 2000 when the media ignored him until the last week when the news media panicked and put him on meet the press to try and destroy him to help al gore. they will do the same with jill stein.

  4. “Politically polarized” is a negative spin word and should be abandoned. I do not see having a large number of voters committed to a political philosophy as a bad thing. What’s wrong with commitment to one’s ideals?

    • Sen. K – What’s wrong with commitment to one’s ideals in the context of this article is that those on the far left or far right are so “committed to one’s ideals” that they’ve put those ideals above “love for country.” I say this because if you really love our country, you must realize that a real working democracy (or republic if that’s the word you want me to use) involves compromise. This is critical because there are so many different viewpoints and we should try to consider as many as humanly possible. Different viewpoints mean different perspectives and different values. Rigid viewpoints that won’t compromise don’t allow us to move forward, just look at Congress for proof of this. In response to your question, I ask “what happened to commitment to our Nation?”

    • I notice that Mike Pence says he’s “…a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order…”. I guess being “an American” comes in fourth at best. “…commitment to one’s ideals…” might not be such a good thing.

  5. Forget about the “swing voters”. It is the politically disaffected and nonvoters that Dems need to appeal to in order to win in Arizona. Give them a reason to vote and explain to them why it matters. Of course, that would require AZ Dems to actually stand for something.

    • The benefits of being an American citizen comes with only one duty: to be an informed engaged citizen who participates in this democracy by voting. Half or more of American citizens are failing this duty by being ill-informed, disengaged, and failing in the most basic act of voting. This is a personal failure of character on their part to honor their duty of citizenship. Don’t blame anyone else for that failure.

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