President Obama’s electoral victory in 2008 is attributed to not just record numbers of minorities and young voters, but has also been laid at the feet of mostly white Independent voters – the Holy Grail of elections.
But according to Stanford political scientist, Taeku Lee, of the 29 percent of voters who were Independents in 2008 exit polls, only 47 percent of white Independents voted for Obama, whereas 70 percent of non-white Independents voted for Obama.
The face of Independent voters has changed since 2008 and certainly affects who controls the White House and Capitol Hill in 2013. The Gallop poll results released in January 2012 found 40 percent of Americans identify as Independents - the highest percentage of independents Gallup has measured since it was at 39 percent in 1995 and 2007.
Today, self-identified Independents are no longer predominantly white - more than 40 percent are non-white, according to research Lee conducted with Zoltan Hajnal, Associate Professor of Political Science at UC-San Diego. Lee’s study found the majority of Latinos and Asian Americans are non-partisan - either Independents or “non-identifiers” who do not identify with a specific party; 18 percent of Latinos were self-identified Independents (another 38 percent were non-identifiers) while 21 percent of Asian Americans were self-identified Independents (36 percent were non-identifiers).
In another study released by MPA Research Group in May 2012, those who self-identified as Independents were more likely to have high levels of education and be male - 35.9 percent men, compared to 25.2 percent women. That study also found African Americans are the least likely ethnic group to identify as Independent voters (15.7 percent) where as all other ethnicities reported a much higher proportion of Independent voters: Caucasian (32.6 percent), Hispanic American (29.6 percent), Asian American (37 percent), and “other” (34.6 percent).
What Independent Voters Want
Most U.S. voters - particularly the key undecided and independent voters – no longer have the confidence in the ability of elected officials to solve the problems facing the U.S.
“People know from personal experience that you cannot solve a problem without talking about it and that the success of that discussion depends a lot on your tone, the words you use and the level of respect you show one another,” says Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civil Discourse. The Institute is a nonpartisan center to advance understanding of civil discourse among elected officials and chaired by former President George H. W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton
A survey released on September 14, 2012, by the Institute indicates that fewer than one in 10 American voters has “a great deal” of confidence in elected officials to solve the problems of our country – while twice as many say they have no confidence at all.
As far as attitudes of these independent voters, the most (90 percent) cited the underlying cause for Washington’s problem-solving paralysis was “politicians’ unwillingness to cross party lines.” Ranking #2 (83 percent) said it was a lack of respectful dialogue among political leaders.
When asked about the presidential debates, 62 percent say they favor candidates who agree with some part of his opponents' agenda and work across party lines to make things happen, while only 33 percent prefer that a candidate focus on problems in his opponent's agenda and point out what he would do differently. For “undecided voters” this sentiment was more evident, with 78 percent seeking a candidate who commits to work constructively across party lines rather than find fault with his opponent.
In a written statement, Sen. Tom Daschle of the institute’s national board said, “Voters are looking to the presidential candidates to strike a different tone – to offer a constructive vision geared to solving the problems facing our country. The debates provided a unique opportunity for both candidates to strike that positive tone and demonstrate the collaborative approach that voters want.”
Gallop noted that “the sluggish economy, record levels of distrust in government, and unfavorable views of both parties helped to create an environment that fostered political independence” as a reason for the increased number of Independents of all color.
With the debates now over, have the candidates met the voters’ expectations?