New bloc of voters who eschew traditional party politics could determine next president, professor says

October 16, 2012 by Heather Wuebker
The new independents are “apartisan” but not apolitical, says UCI political science professor Russell Dalton: “They will turn out to vote nearly as much as partisans. They have no loyalty to either side and will make up their minds late in the game.” Credit: Steve Zylius / University Communications

If your 2012 presidential vote is still up for grabs, you're not alone, says UC Irvine political science professor Russell Dalton.

"Today about 40 percent of Americans claim they're independent of either party," he says, referencing a historical high in modern public opinion polling. "The new independents follow politics, and they will turn out to vote nearly as much as partisans. They have no loyalty to either side and will make up their minds late in the game."

In his book The Apartisan American, published earlier this year, Dalton examines this new bloc of potentially powerful voters and why they've abandoned traditional party politics. Using the biennial American National Election Studies and more recent /ABC polling data, he finds that the shift has less to do with the scandal and controversy plaguing both sides of the aisle (as many have proposed) and more to do with changes in societal values.

"Democratic citizens today are more informed about politics and less deferential to people in authority," Dalton says. When coupled with a media that thrives on reporting the misdeeds of the elite, the result is a more cynical and independent .

Below, Dalton discusses the makeup of this voter bloc, how its constituents are changing politics and what politicians seeking to woo them need to know.

Q. What do these new independents look like?

A. People often talk about independents as a homogeneous group. Actually, there are two very different groups of independents. The first exists at the margins of politics; they are not very interested or engaged, and their independence reflects this disinterest. The new independents are very different. They are better-educated, interested in politics and often young. They're concerned about politics but skeptical of political parties as representative of their interests. Being a nonpartisan is an affirmation of their own independence. Their votes are unpredictable; this group could be a key source of new votes if a candidate wants to expand his or her base. Given the current balance between Democrats and Republicans, whichever candidate gets the disproportionate number of independent votes has a distinct advantage in winning.

Q. How has the "apartisan" American changed political parties in the U.S.?

A. Independents make life difficult, or perhaps more challenging, for the . Neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party can claim that a majority of independents identify with it. But since independents make up the largest voting bloc, the national parties have to be sensitive to their preferences in close elections.

Parties should also be concerned that a growing number of Americans are registering as independents, which means their electorate in primaries is narrowing. The percentage of nonpartisan registrants in California, for example, has doubled since 1996. Reforms like the California open primary are a natural consequence of dealignment; 17 states had open or semi-open Republican primaries this year. Such elections give independents the power to make decisions for either party.

But the challenging part is that independents view much differently than do people who identify strongly with a national party. For example, Romney had to appeal to partisans to win the Republican presidential nomination, but now he must appeal to independents to win the general election. Many of the positions Romney took in the GOP primaries are a turnoff for independents, even moderate independents.

Consequently, parties and candidates have to woo very different types of prospective supporters, and it's difficult in the modern media age to say two things at the same time without drawing intense criticism.

Furthermore, if a party wins the support of independents in one election, victory is fleeting. It cannot depend on them at the next election.

Q. What does this mean for the 2012 election?

A. One might almost say that Democratic and Republican party identifiers won't matter in 2012; it's the independents who matter. I say that because partisans enter elections with their decisions already made. For example, both Gore and Obama got essentially the same share of the vote from Democratic partisans, despite the differences between the candidates and the events that transpired between 2000 and 2008 – ditto for Republican support for Bush in 2000 and McCain in 2008. Obama won in 2008 primarily because he attracted 10 percent more votes from independents than did Gore in 2000. How 2012 compares to 2008 will largely depend on independents. In short, if Obama loses independents, he's likely to lose the election.

Explore further: Will the real independents please stand up?

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3 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2012
Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. -- Robert A. Heinlein
You can find 'controllers' in both parties, as well as their 'subjects.' The 'apartisans' are those of us who do not wish to control others, or to be controlled, and we will not be found in either party.

1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2012 College is running the ten week free on-line lecture series Constitution 201 (that follows Const. 101 of some months ago). The lectures make clear the divide between our Founding Fathers' Constitution and the progressives that make up the Amerikan left, right and libertarians. Vote Constitution Party.

Read Angelo Codevilla's on-line TAS essay America's Ruling Class -- And the Perils of Revolution.
5 / 5 (3) Oct 16, 2012
Who are the Tea Baggers going to vote for?

1 / 5 (9) Oct 16, 2012
Who are the Tea Baggers going to vote for?

Typical juvenile sexual slur from an extreme leftling.

Perhaps you should go toss a salad, fudge-packer.

See how easy that is?
5 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2012
Excellent. Now if we just get rid of the electoral college so everyone's vote counts fairly, we'll have politicians pandering to people who think for themselves on a regular basis! ..'course, I'd still rather just vote on every issue myself and get the political middlemen out of the way.. but hey, there are a few issues on the ballot in my state that I'll get to vote on here in NE. Marijuana decriminalization for one.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2012
Youre forgetting that the politicians will say and promise anything to get in. Whoever you vote for - you lose - they win.
Shinobiwan Kenobi
5 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2012
Who are the Tea Baggers going to vote for?

Typical juvenile sexual slur from an extreme leftling.

Perhaps you should go toss a salad, fudge-packer.

See how easy that is?

Typical conservative-argument-from-a-point-of-ignorance-reply;

"Use of term "teabagger"The term teabagger was initially used to refer to Tea Partiers after conservatives used tea bag as a verb on protest signs and websites... ...Conservatives initially embraced the term, and some have since advocated that the non-vulgar meaning of the word be reclaimed."

Half way down this page ==> (http://en.wikiped...ovement)

Your homophobic retort and overreaction leads me to believe that you're a part of the delusional astro-turf bible-passage-cherry-pickers populationg the bottom of the intellegence curve of the American voting demographic.
not rated yet Oct 17, 2012
"delusional astro-turf bible-passage-cherry-pickers populating the bottom of the intellegence curve ".

This was the original proposed name for the New Orleans Saints...but labelling football players as stupid is wrong.

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