Why do so many people call themselves independents even though they mostly vote for one party pretty consistently? Yanna Krupnikov and Samara Klar describe a study they just completed that asked people to rate photographs of two affluent neighborhoods:
Some respondents saw pictures of the neighborhoods without any political signs, and some saw these very same neighborhoods with just one small addition: a political campaign sign on one of the well-manicured lawns.
When people were reminded of partisan disagreement, they consistently rated the neighborhood with the political sign as being a less desirable place to live. In addition, more than 60 percent also reported that they would not even want to attend an event with people who lived in that neighborhood.
Yeah, but I'll bet all those intolerant jerks were narrow-minded tea-party Republicans. No wait. I mean they were probably arrogant, sanctimonious Democrats. No no. Hold on again. I'll bet they were really smug, pox-on-both-your-houses "moderates." See? I can do that all day long. Anyway, let's forge ahead with the Science™:
In a similar study, we showed people photographs of strangers. We told some of our participants that the strangers were Independents, and we told others that the strangers were partisans. We found that when people were reminded of partisan disagreement, they rated photographs of Independents as being more attractive than photographs of partisans — even when, by objective standards, the partisans were actually more attractive.
Bottom line: Krupnikov and Klar find that (a) most people don't like engaging with partisans, but (b) are themselves mostly partisan, no matter what they actually call themselves. This makes sense to me. Engaging with conservatives is obviously annoying for me, since I'm a liberal and I think they're wrong about everything. But engaging with liberals can be kind of annoying too. After all, liberals are annoying, always trying to tell you that the power structure is oppressive and factory-farmed beef is an outrage and you should be more concerned about lead in the environment, blah blah blah. Better to just find a nice independent and chew the fat about whether Andrew Luck has what it takes to put Tom Brady out to pasture tomorrow.