In the wake of the elections of November 3, 2008 we noted the dramatic swing of the independent voter. Who are these voters and why do they refuse to ally themselves with one of the two major parties? I confess up front that this is my sense and perception and I do not propose to support this with any legitimate research.
The independent is fiscally conservative and socially tolerant. This would make them libertarian but they are not dogmatically so. They do realize that there is a place in foreign affairs for the military whereas the more dogmatic of the libertarian would categorically condemn foreign military adventures.
The social tolerance explains their willingness to support a black man with a distinctly ethnic name. They are tolerant of ethnic diversity and I guess they are probably about evenly split on the subjects of gay marriage and abortion rights.
The independent is a realist. He realizes that there is a continuum of socialistic government policy and individual liberty and is only likely to become mobilized when he sees a move to an extreme, which he probably now sees. When 48% of the population received more in benefits that they pay in taxes it is extreme in any reasonable view. The independent recognizes that there is evil in the world and that there is a time when violence must be employed.
The independent is civil. The demonization of one party by the other, the name calling, and the negative campaigning alienates the independent. In a display of uncivil discourse they hear only the emotion and not the message.
The independent is rational. He does not blindly follow a party line if it does not make sense. He is skeptical of radical change, but willing to question policies that no longer work. He understands that taking money from one person and giving it to another does not create wealth. In fact it is more likely to destroy it. He understands that the economic laws that govern his household are not dramatically different than the economic laws that govern our nation. Wealth must be earned, and debt must be repaid- one way or another.
The independent understands the role of government and its limits. He understands that life is imperfect, often unfair, and frequently uncertain. He understands that government policies that seek to solve all our problems and counter the laws of nature often end in tyranny.
The independent is not necessarily the same as a populist. The independent is more likely to compromise than the populist, less likely to have a single issue litmus test, and less likely to campaign actively, put a bumper sticker on their car or attend a ‘Tea Party.’
The independent is less tied to a principled philosophy and thus is more likely to be swayed by appearances and charisma. By not being attached to a party he is more likely to change if his candidate disappoints. This explains the voter swing in VA and NJ.
The independent is more likely to change priorities in crisis. After 9/11 they became hawks. After the financial meltdown they became economics Keynesians. After the bailouts and nationalizations they became fiscal conservatives.
The independents are honest and expect the representatives to be honest as well. Transparency and bipartisan efforts were promised by this administration and they are not keeping their promise. They are intolerant of the corruption that is plaguing the party in power. They are even more intolerant that the party leaders tolerate the blatant corruption of a Charles Rangel or Chris Dodd.
The Republican populists that challenged the party leaders in NY district 23 are probably correct that the Republicans cannot win by being a lighter version of Democrats. But they also cannot win by ignoring the wishes and motivation of the independents. The alliance between the independents and populists in matters of sound economics and limited government will not necessarily include a mandate on social issues the independents oppose.
The radical policies of the current administration have energized the Republican base more than the attractiveness of any specific candidate to represent them. Centrist Democrats in the White House or in Congress may have rendered a figure like Sarah Palin irrelevant. Combined with the flexibility (or fickleness) of the independents the Right has quickly regained a footing many recently thought was unrecoverable.