Monday, August 27, 2012

The GOP's Last Gasp: The "Independent" Voter

By Nathan Rothwell 

As the Republican National Convention convenes this week to officially nominate Mitt Romney for president, the GOP is desperate to reclaim the narrative from the potential devastation of Tropical Storm Isaac and the definite devastation of party castout Todd Akin. Governor Bob McDonnell, head of the GOP Platform Committee, spent time on This Week with George Stephanopoulos to drive home a new narrative: Mitt Romney is the new best pal of independent voters.

After attempting to lay the blame for the U.S. credit rating downgrade on President Obama, McDonnell had this to say:
“So on the things that really matter to voters, George, I think the records are stark, and I think that’s why independent voters have a ten-point margin in favor of Mitt Romney right now.”
Such a claim seems dubious. And according to Politifact, the poll McDonnell referenced comes from (surprise!) a Fox News poll. Recent CNN and Gallup polls, however, show a Romney lead among independents closer to the 3-4% range.

In my opinion, if Republicans are willing to exaggerate how well Romney is doing among independent voters, that narrative must mean something to them. Yet this seems like a fool’s errand. I would argue that these independents Romney seems so desperate to court don’t actually exist – or at least, the GOP doesn’t quite understand what an independent voter actually looks like.

Just how do we determine who independent voters are, anyway? It seems like just about anyone who even considers voting for candidates from multiple parties could fit that definition.  And if the only way to guess how many “independent” voters there are is by asking how people affiliate, well … people change their minds about that sort of thing all the time, and even outright lie.

Example: Fox’s Bill O’Reilly occasionally takes time away from his nightly scathing of liberals to remind his audience that he’s an independent with no ties to the Republican party. When the New York Daily News discovered he registered Republican in Nassau County in 1994, O’Reilly falsely claimed that the form gave him no option to register as an independent, feigned ignorance of ever remembering that happened, and re-registered as an independent. Somehow in the aftermath of that awkward incident, I doubt he actually became any more “independent” of GOP talking points.

The point here is that many people who identify as independent voters are actually Republicans or Democrats in disguise; a study done by the Washington Post appears to confirm this scenario. This could be one reason that independents seemed to break so heavily towards Romney in a Fox News poll, rather than polls conducted by far less biased news organizations. But what of the true independent voters, who legitimately have minimal ties to either of America’s two major political parties?

As Dr. Evil might say, I can’t officially back up this next paragraph with any paperwork. But unofficially, in the conversations I’ve had with most people who honestly strike me as real independent voters, all of them have sufficiently shown that they have no love lost for Democrats or Republicans. When Election Day comes, they plan to overwhelmingly go in one of two directions:
  1. Third-party candidate X (Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, etc.)
  2. Staying home
Just because some Americans may be thinking “let’s try something else” (as Greta Van Susteren put it during her appearance on the This Week panel following McDonnell) doesn’t mean that Romney represents “something else.” Believe it or not, there are more than two candidates for president this year. Those dissatisfied with the Obama Administration thus far are not necessarily going to find solace in Romney, backed by a party which has valued obstruction over problem solving.

McDonnell claims that the U.S. credit downgrade occurred “on Obama’s watch,” but conveniently omits the fact that the downgrade resulted from uncertainty brought about by Republicans threatening to default on the national debt if they didn’t get their way on shortsighted budget issues. Unless the deficit was handled only by spending cuts and not a cent in additional taxes on the GOP voter base top 1% of American income-earners, they were prepared to hold the government hostage; and our credit rating was downgraded as investors became nervous. While the so-called independent voters appear much more interested in cooperation and compromise in the political arena, the GOP’s record use of obstructionism flies in the face of the wishes of independent voters.

With the GOP base proving itself increasingly limited, Team Romney must have surmised that its best chance to defeat President Obama in November is to reach outside the Republican faithful to attract independent voters. Yet with so many among those ranks either disguising their true affiliations or seething with disdain for both major political parties, all Romney will find among independents are voters who were already with him all along, or those who were never going to vote for him anyway.


  1. O'Reilly may not have been lying on that front. I was unable to register Independent in Illinois, and Missouri didn't even let me pick a party.

    1. This depends upon what type of ballot your state uses in elections, including primary elections. Missouri has an "open primary" and does not require a voter to register with a party.(democrat or republican, or a non-contested ballot).

      You aren't required to tick a box, independent, republican, or democrat. So when voting in Missouri primaries, one ballot is given to voters containing all parties.

      In semi-open primaries, you similarly don't declare a party affiliation, but you do choose which party ballot you want.

      In a state with a closed primary, only a registered member of the party can vote on the party ballot. This does require a box to be ticked declaring party affiliation to register. However, unaffiliated voters can sometimes vote on the ballot of an official party, but this varies from state to state and is sometimes the discretion of the parties themselves. This level of declaration is also the case in semi-closed primaries, which usually allow same day party registration.

      In O'Reilly's case, he voted in New York, which holds closed primaries. He would be required to declare a party (or register as unaffiliated or independent) and would have been given a single ballot of the party he declared.

      Hope this helps! Democracy can be complicated! Lol But I really like voting in Missouri, personally, and not having to declare a party.


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