Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Democrats rebounding with independents

If you had to point to a single voter group that cost Democrats the 2010 election cycle it was independents. Not only did Republicans win them in pretty much every key race this year, they did it by wide margins.

Here's some good news for Democrats though: our early 2012 cycle polling suggests the strong GOP lean of independent voters this year was more of a blip on the radar screen than a sign of things to come. Since the election we've polled 51 different possible Senate/Governor contests for 2012 and across all those different permutations Democrats are leading by an average of 6 points. And when you look at the 48 prospective Presidential match ups we've tested that spread expands even further to an average lead of 11 points for Barack Obama with independents.

This speaks to a couple things. The biggest is that it's yet another reminder that the folks who turned out this year bear little resemblance to a Presidential year electorate. Conservative leaning independents who tend to vote Republican were much more inspired to vote this year than more centrist independents who usually support Democrats. If the moderates come back out next time, as they probably will, that in and of itself is going to be a big boost for Democratic candidates within that voter group.

The other thing it's a reminder of is that even though independents voted for Republicans this year it doesn't mean they like the GOP. Our November national poll found a 17/60 approval spread for the Republicans in Congress with independents. A poll we did earlier in the year found that only 18% of independents generally though the GOP was going in the right direction, while 49% thought they were off on the wrong track. Republicans are going to have to show independent voters something different than they have been if they hope to win their votes again in 2012.

I think you're a lot more likely to see independent voters give a single digit edge to one party or the other in 2012 than the sort of landslide margins they tended to give Republicans in the key races we were polling in 2010.

13 comments:

DBL said...

Centerist independents, by definition, don't favor one party or the other. They are in the center between parties and independent of either.

Moderates aren't centerists. Liberal Democrats largely consider themselves moderates, while Moderate Republicans often consider themselves conservative.

In 2008, with an overwhelming Democratic electorate, conservatives outnumbered liberals 34%-22%, very similar to the 34%-21% ratio in 2004. Democrats even won self-identified moderates in 2010.

If Democrats don't win "moderates" they get blown out. How a party does with "liberals," "moderates," and "conservatives" tells us nothing, because people aren't accurate in how they identify themselves. I'm sure that half the readers of dailykos and Huffington Post consider themselves moderates.

I'm sure that if you did a poll a lot of moderates would support the public option, cap and trade, and the rest of the Democratic agenda. If they were truly moderate they'd support something between the two parties. You know. Something in the middle.

Jonny V said...

DBL - the thing is the Republicans of today are so extreme that they don't appeal to moderates. The Democrats win the moderate vote because they are the only Party that's even close to sane.

eLwood said...

Consider how far right has the "center" been moved before tossing out a term like "centrist." Not long ago a researcher compiled enough data on Reagan and what he supported to show that Ronnie could not be elected by today's conservatives.
C&L has the story here.

.

The Interesting Times said...

I would say a Democratic rebound with independents is only part of the story.

I do believe that the Democrats up for reelection in 2012 are intrinsically stronger candidates than those who were defeated or seriously challenged last year. Many of the ones facing reelection in 2012 were freshmen in 2006, who got elected by running as "blue dogs" or "fighting Dems." They've also managed to stay out of the headlines for the most part. Nothing appeals to independents more than lack of controversy.

DBL said...

JohnnyV I recognize that this is what you're told on the Huffington Post and dailykos, but it isn't true. in 1992 Clinton won self-identified moderates by 17 points. He won them by 24 points in 1996. Gore won moderates by 8 points. Kerry won them by 9. Obama won them by 20. In 2010 Democrats won them by 13.

You can go back further and find George Bush lost moderates in 1988. Despite big victories in 1980 and 1984 Ronald Reagan won moderates by only 6 and 8 points. Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford by 6 with moderates, but won the election by 2.

You can go back to 1976 and find that liberals always make up around 20% of the electorate and conservatives are always in the low 30's.

In 1984 conservatives were 33% of the electorate and Republicans 35%. In 2008 conservatives were 34% of the electorate and Republicans 32%. Even though you can't get more different in the electoral results, people identifying themselves as Republican and conservative have been pretty much the same. So moderates are the same % of Republicans they've always been.

It seems pretty clear that the GOP has been too extreme for moderates since 1976 when they first started asking that question in Presidential elections. Or maybe I was right in the first place and nothing has changed.

Anonymous said...

If Obama keeps moving to the center like he did for the tax cut deal he will be hard to beat. He'll need the economy to improve too, but I would not have said that just a month ago. Thats how big of a pivot he has made. He has to keep it up though and NOT do what the left wants. Mayor Daley as chief of staff is another good sign.

DBL said...

The center is a tricky place. George W. Bush did a number of centerist things that his base saw as too liberal and the Democrats rejected entirely. As a result, his base stayed home in 2006 and 2008.

Obama's base perceives that he's already moved too far to the center. Think about how they'll feel when he actually does.

NRH said...

The Republican identity has tied itself very tightly to the 'conservative' moniker. They've been demonizing 'moderate' Republicans as 'the mushy middle' and 'quislings' for so long, there are relatively few Republicans left who will even think of themselves as moderates. Democrats are more prone to think of their views as being sensible, popular ideas - hence 'moderate.' The shift away from moderation by the Republican Party is evident by, for example, Reagan's Secretary of the Navy being considered too 'moderate' for the Republican Party and joining the Democrats. When one side makes it a point to make their adherents use one label while the other side allows greater freedom of thought, it's unsurprising that one label gets more claimants.

With 'independents' it's a very different story. There are many, many reasons why the independent crowd can change dramatically; some people just refuse their party label but in all other ways just act as partisans, some people are genuinely uncommitted, some people prefer another party, some people don't engage at all, and some people act as unreliable partisans, showing up only part of the time. Democrats tend to have a large number of unreliable voters, so after a year when just about all the unreliable voters stayed home, it's not surprising to see a significant rebound.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of this is independents thinking better of Democrats and how much is Democrats turning into independents. Gallup and Rasmussen are both showing Democratic party affiliation hitting lows while independents are increasing. Not sure if your numbers are showing the same thing.

Note that if this is mostly people who had identified as Democrats now identifying as independents, this would do Democratic politicians no good. It's just moving their voters from one bucket to another. Also, those same voters may choose to go another way. That's the problem with independents. They don't feel beholden to a particular party.

It will also be interesting to see how the changed makeup of the Democratic delegation in Congress affects this. In both houses, it is more liberal. Many of the seats that Republicans won were previously held by relatively conservative Democrats. Think Arkansas and North Dakota. Moderates may find the new Democrats less appealing, leaving openings for moderate Republicans in 2012.

Christian Liberty said...

Demoncrats ONLY chance to "rebound" is to entirely repudiate the "progressive" agenda... and pass themselves off as moderates. (of course, we all know that Democrats are radically far left... and only Republicans and Blue Dogs who favor Schuler over Pelosi bear any resemblance to moderates.

Christian Liberty said...

More voters see Tea Party positively; "progressive" still seen as a negative

"Voters see Tea Party a bit less negatively as a political label these days, while liberal and progressive have lost ground even among Democrats.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that conservative is still THE MOST FAVORED description. Forty-two percent (42%) of Likely U.S. Voters say they view it as a positive if a candidate is described as politically conservative. Twenty-one percent (21%) say it’s a negative description, and 36% rate it somewhere in between the two.
Conservative, in fact, is the only political label other than moderate that is a net plus for a candidate.
Calling someone a Tea Party candidate is seen positively by 31%, unchanged from September, but negatively by 32%. Thirty-three percent (33%) put it somewhere in between. In September, 38% viewed Tea Party as a negative.
Being described as a progressive, on the other hand, is a positive for 22% of voters and a negative for 34%, with 41% seeing it in between. But in the previous survey, voters were evenly divided, with 29% saying progressive was a positive description and 28% describing it as a negative. This marks a continuing downward trend for progressive which little over three years ago was slightly more popular than conservative." (Rasmussen)

Conservative and moderate are the ideologies that Americans trust. Americans have always rejected "progressivism" as a THREAT to the American way of life... and by the grace of God, Americans ALWAYS will.

Christian Liberty said...

Independents still prefer a Republican for their congressman/woman over a Democrat by a massive 23 point margin.

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/generic_congressional_ballot

And more people want to be identified as a Republican than at any point in the last six years.

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/partisan_trends

Oh, yeah. Big rebound. Sure.

Christian Liberty said...

Democratic Party ID Drops in 2010, Tying 22-Year Low

Democrats aren't just unpopular with Independents; Democrats are unpopular with Democrats!!

http://www.gallup.com/poll/145463/Democratic-Party-Drops-2010-Tying-Year-Low.aspx

 
Web Statistics