No, Virginia, There Are No Independent Voters

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Any book review that starts like this is probably worth reading:

I suppose we should be grateful to Linda Killian. Her new book collects in one place every clichéd and suspect empirical generalization about political independents. So in that sense—and only in that sense—it is a useful volume.

That’s from Ruy Teixeira. His simple point is one that regular readers will be familiar with: most “independent” voters are actually pretty partisan. Indies who lean Democratic vote Democratic and indies who lean Republican vote Republican. They’re just about as reliable in their voting patterns as actual Democrats and Republicans. This has long been common knowledge among political scientists who actually look at voting data.

But what about the folks who don’t lean at all?

Yet the “independent” group does include one sub-group whose members look and act more like swing voters. This is the so-called pure independents subgroup, those who say they do not lean toward either party. In 2008, they split their vote much more evenly between the parties—51-41 for Obama—and they have policy views that are not closely aligned with either party. But this is a small group, and because it tends to show low information, low involvement, and relatively low turnout, it is even smaller in the context of an actual election. In 2008, according to the NES, they were just 7 percent of all voters and only 20 percent of nominally independent voters.

Independent voters aren’t entirely a myth, but they’re surely an endangered species. There just aren’t as many of these fabled creatures as the mainstream press endlessly suggests. Like it or not, we’re a partisan country.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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