Confused and Clueless Independents

Michael Kazin wonders if independent voters are "really just a confused and clueless horde".

That is certainly the impression one gets from dipping into the finer details of a mid-April survey of 1,000 likely, registered voters conducted by Democracy Corps, the outfit run by Stan Greenberg and James Carville. Beyond the usual questions about Obama's job approval and that of House Republicans, this poll performed the valuable service of reading out each party's talking points about the current budget debate and then asking respondents which ones they found convincing.

The results are mildly hilarious. By a margin of over 20 points, voters agree with these GOP lines: "Both Democrats and Republicans have run up deficits, but now they are out of control under President Obama and threatening our economy"; Paul Ryan's plan "changes the reckless path of over-spending and borrowing"; and, "Over-regulation and high taxes punish companies for success." At the same time, by slightly higher percentages, they also agree with the Democrats that Ryan's budget would "eliminate guaranteed Medicare and Medicaid coverage"; "force seniors to negotiate with private insurance companies, which are free to raise rates and deny coverage"; and "decrease taxes for CEOs and big corporations, giving millionaires another huge tax break."

Since avowed Republicans and Democrats line up consistently behind whichever arguments come from their side, it is the independents who are responsible for the contradictory results: Almost 50 percent agreed first with the GOP positions, and then, with those of the other party.

Obviously it is admirable to line up consistently behind whatever argument comes from your side. I defer to no man in my regard for that mindset. Even so I'd say Kazin should be careful who he calls clueless.

Granted, the wording of the six positions is tendentious; they're talking-points, as Kazin says, not well-formed choices. Still, expressed in more neutral language, all six positions are substantially true. There is certainly no logical inconsistency in agreeing with them all; no contradiction, not even close. I imagine Kazin wants voters to do what he presumably does. First, sort all propositions into GOP lines and Democratic lines (a "reckless" here and an "eliminate" there make it easy to recognise them). Second, accept one bundle or the other according to whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.

How hard is that? Those clueless independents can't do it. They don't even know whether they're Democrats or Republicans!