The general consensus is that of the 30% to 40% or so of Americans who call themselves independents, no more than ten percent are independent voters in any meaningful sense of the term. And “pure independents” are also less likely to vote than partisans.
This is important for a whole lot of reasons. For one thing, the idea that “independents” are a third force in politics positioned in some moderate, bipartisan space equidistant from the two parties is entirely wrong.
Who knew this? Karl Rove, for one, a factor that played heavily into the way the Bush Administration played politics :
In late 2000, even as the result of the presidential election was still being contested in court, George W. Bush’s chief pollster Matt Dowd was writing a memo for Rove that would reach a surprising conclusion. Based on a detailed examination of poll data from the previous two decades, Dowd’s memo argued that the percentage of swing voters had shrunk to a tiny fraction of the electorate. Most self-described “independent” voters “are independent in name only,” Dowd told me in an interview describing his memo. “Seventy-five percent of independents vote straight ticket” for one party or the other. Once such independents are reclassified as Democrats or Republicans, a key trend emerges: Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of true swing voters fell from a very substantial 24 percent of the electorate to just 6 percent. In other words, the center was literally disappearing. Which meant that, instead of having every incentive to govern as “a uniter, not a divider,” Bush now had every reason to govern via polarization.
The myth of the independent voter…