Pixel Tracker

Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:45 pm | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Mark Shields: The Declaration of Independents

Democrats facing long odds in November must focus on courting the decisive middle

How influential in the most recent national elections were the three out of 10 actual voters who declare themselves to be not Democrats or Republicans, but rather independents? The answer in two words: decidedly and disproportionately.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

Consider this: Before 2008, Indiana, having voted Republican in 16 of the 17 previous presidential elections, was about as reliably red as any state. But Democratic President Barack Obama carried the Hoosier state by 28,391 votes out of more than 2.75 million cast. Because Republican Sen. John McCain and Obama each predictably won roughly nine out of 10 of the votes of his respective party members and because more Indiana voters were Republican (41 percent) than Democrat (36 percent), McCain would have won — except for the 23 percent of self-described Indiana independent voters whose 51 percent to 43 percent preference for Obama provided him an advantage of some 69,000 votes over McCain — or more than twice his entire statewide margin.

Obama’s winning margins among independent voters were key to his carrying Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio, among other battleground states. But for independent voters’ landslide (57 percent to 39 percent) backing of Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives nationally in 2006 and by their 51 percent to 43 percent support for them in 2008, Democrats would not have gained 55 House seats in those two elections and the resulting majority control of the House.

But that was — most definitely — then, and that is certainly not now. Today, just 16 percent of independent voters, according to the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, are confident (either “extremely confident” or “quite confident”) that President Obama has the “right set of goals and policies to improve the economy.” In the Aug. 17 Gallup poll, registered voters by seven points (50 percent to 43 percent) say they “would vote for the Republican candidate for Congress” in their district. But in that same poll, independent voters — by a thumping 47 percent to 33 percent — now back the GOP House candidate.

In fact, when voter group preferences in congressional voting are compared, as Gallup has done, between September of the big Democratic year of 2006 and this not-so-currently promising year, the results are truly sobering for the current majority party. Democrats’ advantage among independent voters has gone from plus 46 percent to 31 percent then to minus 47 percent to 33 percent now — a drop of 29 percent, compared with a 12 percent drop in the overall electorate.

Alone among winning presidential candidates in the past quarter-century, according to an analysis by political journalist Ron Brownstein, President George W. Bush in 2004 was able to prevail despite losing the independent vote to Sen. John Kerry by a single point. Bush had carried independents in 2000 just as President Bill Clinton did in both 1992 and 1996 and President George H.W. Bush had in 1988. As the independents go, so very often go American elections.

It is a mistake for Democrats to dismiss these alarming numbers by arguing that independents are unrepresentative of the electorate and are somehow Republicans traveling under an alias. Forty-three percent of independents, according to the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, describe themselves as moderates, and just 38 percent as conservatives.

As every baseball fan learns, the key to winning is being strong “down the middle” — which translates, in addition to having strong pitching, into the successful team having strength at the catcher’s position as well as at shortstop and second base and in center field.

This may be even more true in this time of polarized politics. For a Democratic White House facing long odds in November, this means not firing their verbal shots at the liberal-left, but instead turning all its power of persuasion at courting and rewinning the decisive middle. To do otherwise guarantees failure on Nov. 2.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.