I was listening to all the gasbags drone on all day yesterday about how the "independents" are all unhappy with Obama and are probably going to vote for the Republicans again when just a couple of years ago they were all unhappy with Bush and voted with the Democrats. This was interpreted as a signal that Obama needs to tack right immediately to recapture them.
Does that make sense? Isn't the answer more logically that independents just habitually dislike whoever is in power and think that both parties are incompetent? Why else would they identify as independents in the first place?
I realize that the villagers think there is some sort of "median" moderate voter who believes that the answer to all of our problems lies somewhere between the positions of the two parties. But that's not necessarily the independent's position. They don't like either party true, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they yearn to split the difference. In fact, I suspect that a large number of them are apolitical people who don't really understand politics at all and simply reject whoever is in power when things aren't going well, without regard to party. (In fact, there is great social utility in rejecting party politics and proclaiming yourself unhappy with the whole set-up. Who can't relate to that on some level?) Many independents ideologically fall far enough outside the two parties that they can't consider themselves members of either --- libertarians, greens etc.
The number of independents out there is quite large and all national politicians need to reach them in elections in order to win. But the knee jerk assumption that they are always more moderate than everyone else is probably wrong. They might just be more cranky, more cynical, more uninformed, more skeptical or more impatient. There are a lot of reasons why someone might be an independent in American politics but I suspect that ideology is at the bottom of the list.
Update: To clarify, I did say that I can understand why people hate both parties and that some independents are actually liberatarians, greens, etc. I should have made clearer that there are, of course, independents who are thoughtful and engaged and who reject both parties in favor of ... well, something else. It is not an indictment of all of them to say that many of them are not ideological and may be driven by reasons that are more emotional than intellectual.
I can't help but note that people reveal an awful lot about their own insecurities when they read any criticism of "independents" as a criticism of them personally. Perhaps they need to look at what the word "independent" actually means. It would seem to me that it logically would include a lot of different kinds of people and that one can't extrapolate from that designation any kind of ideology or that they are inherently moderate ---which is the point of this post.
Update II: Via Steve Benen, I see that Kaiser Foundation did a study of independents and came up with sopme specific designations. It's interesting.
It certainly doesn't follow that all of those people can be determined to be "moderates."
Atrios weighs in here.