The Myth of the Independent

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 1:35 PM EST

John Sides is annoyed at yet another outbreak of "independent" fever: the obsession of political pundits and analysts with the supposedly growing and influential group of nonpartisan independents in the electorate. So today he links to a post on the subject that he wrote a few months ago:

Here is the problem: Most independents are closet partisans. This has been well-known in political science since at least 1992, with the publication of The Myth of the Independent Voter (here).

When asked a follow-up question, the vast majority of independents state that they lean toward a political party. They are the “independent leaners.”....The significance of independent leaners is this: they act like partisans. Here is the percent of partisans and independent leaners voting for the presidential candidate of their party. There is very little difference between independent leaners and weak partisans. Approximately 75% of independent leaners are loyal partisans.

Bottom line: only about 10% of voters are true independents, and that number hasn't changed much over the past three decades. Independents matter, but they don't matter nearly as much as pundit mythology would have you believe.