Why do we care about independents? A CBS column by history professor Michael Kazin notes:
No group in American politics gets more respect than independent voters. Pundits and reporters probe what these allegedly moderate citizens think about this issue and that candidate, major party strategists seek the golden mean of messaging that will attract independents to their camp and/or alienate them from the opposing one. Presidential nominees and aides struggle to come up with phrases and settings that will soothe or excite them. But what if millions of independents are really just a confused and clueless horde, whose interest in politics veers between the episodic and the non-existent?Elections, especially presidential elections, often settle on the swing voters, the self-styled "independents" who can be nudged, moved, shifted, or shoved toward one candidate or away from another. Kazin notes that these "independents" tend to be accepting of a mishmash of political positions from the left and the right, from the Dems or from the GOPers. As he puts it: "To a sympathetic eye, this result might connote a pleasant openness to contrasting opinions, perhaps a desire to give each group of partisans the benefit of the doubt. But I think it demonstrates a basic thoughtlessness."
This is nothing new. Philip Converse wrote about this in 1964 in his seminal piece, "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics." Without getting too PhDweebish, Converse pointed out the inconsistencies in our ideological belief systems. Later, folks dived into this and established, long ago, that a huge chunk of the American electorate (the "independents") held highly inconsistent beliefs. Kazin reminds us of the infamous Lippmann/Dewey debates from the 1920s about whether the public was capable of understanding politics.
It's an excellent piece.