Independents: It’s Not My Party — and I’ll Vote How I Want To

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

People attend the launch of the unaffiliated political organization known as No Labels in New York City.

Just one in four voters call themselves Republicans.

That’s the finding of the latest Pew Research Center poll, one of the best around.

Party affiliation, Pew’s Andy Kohut tells us, is like a political state of mind — it ebbs and flows, and lately, in Kohut’s surveys, it has been flowing Democratic: 38 percent of the registered voters surveyed toward the end of July identified themselves with President Barack Obama’s party, and 25 percent with Republican Mitt Romney’s party. That was as wide as the divide has been all year in the center’s monthly surveys.

One third of all the voters surveyed called themselves independent.

Couple this with another survey’s findings:

Consumer confidence had been higher among Democrats than Republicans for a record 18 straight weeks at the time that Pew poll was conducted.

Confidence among Republicans fell to minus 45.1 in the week ended July 22, 47.9 points below their long-term average, according to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index. Among Democrats, confidence was at minus 27.8, two points lower than their long-term average, although it did fall 4.2 points from the previous week.

That stretch of Democratic optimism surpassing that of Republicans tripled the previous record — a six-week period encompassing the re-election of President Bill Clinton in November 1996, as Bloomberg’s Michelle Jamrisko reported.

Republicans have been more hopeful than Democrats in data going back to 1990, in part because they tend to be more affluent, according to Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates in New York, which compiles the index for Bloomberg.

Consumer confidence, like party identification, is a state of mind.

If more people are calling themselves Democrats lately, and Democrats are voicing more confidence in the economy, that’s clearly a positive trend for a Democratic president seeking re-reelection, even as the rate of unemployment remains above 8 percent. At the same time, Pew’s Kohut notes, attitudes change. And within 100 days of the election, there is time for more ebbing and flowing of opinion.

But what about those independent-minded voters?

Independents, a group that both Romney and Obama are courting heavily, have been more pessimistic than Democrats, according to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index.The index for that group was minus 45.1 in the week to July 22 and had averaged minus 39.2 in the past 18 weeks.

And in that survey that Pew conducted July 16-26, the one-in-three voters who called themselves independent were breaking virtually even for Obama and Romney: 45 percent for the Republican, 43 percent for the Democrat.

So there’s a lesson in all these trends:

The state of mind of Democrats and Republicans, in the end, may be a lot less important than that of the one-in-three voters who distinguish themselves apart from either party — more pessimistic about the economy for now, and fairly evenly divided in where they stand with Obama or Romney.

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