Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Today's Lesson in Why One Shouldn't Trust Self-Identified "Independents"

Sean Hannity: "I'm not a Republican, though people often mistake me for one."

(From Political Wire, quoted from a Playboy interview I'm not going to click through to read).

Or, to quote John Sides:
The three myths [about independents] are:

1) Independents are the largest partisan group.

2) Independents are actually independent.

3) Change in the opinions of independents is always consequential.
Sean Hannity is perfectly free to call himself whatever he wants. But he is obviously a functional Republican.

Keep this in mind the next time someone tells you about how independents are a huge group of voters. For whatever reason, our political culture values calling oneself "independent," and discourages people from identifying themselves as party regulars -- if you ask people whether they vote the candidate or the party, an overwhelming majority will go with "candidate."

Our political behavior, on the other hand, demonstrates considerably partisan behavior -- most of us, most of the time, do in fact for party, not candidate.

All of which is not only very familiar to anyone who has studied the evidence, but should be obvious to anyone who listens to political actors talk.

A reminder of my good-enough way of thinking about how the actual electorate breaks down: it's one-third Republican, one-third Democratic, one-third independent...but that final one third is itself really one-third Republican, one-third Democratic, and one-third (and thus one-ninth overall) true independent. And what's more, those true independents are overwhelmingly the least informed and least attentive to politics; the stereotyped careful independent who carefully reads up on the issues and the candidates in order to make up her mind does exist, but she's a tiny, tiny, party of the electorate (I've never seen numbers, but I'm guessing some fraction of one percent).

25 comments:

  1. While I agree with your general points, it should be noted that Hannity in this interview didn't claim to be an independent. He said he was a "registered Conservative," by which I think he meant simply a member of New York's Conservative Party.

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  2. Oh, I don't think that the portion of informed independents is that small. These are tendencies, not rules. 26% of "true" indies are "very" interested in campaigns, compared to 30-36% of the strong partisans. (Yes, they're exaggerating, too, but the tendency really isn't absolute) They are less than half as likely to claim to have talked to someone about their votes (24% vs 55-60%)...but a number of them still do.

    If I had to put a number on it, I'd put it around 3-4%. Not less than 1/10th of Indies, though.

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  3. Hey, I vote for the candidate and not the party!

    It's just a coincidence that all the candidates I vote for belong to the same party.

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  4. I think voters should always vote for the best candidate regardless of party. I also think that anyone who believes a Republican could be "the best candidate" must be brain-damaged.

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    1. I vote only for Republicans because of the anti-white/anti-male policies that Democrats almost all favor. When I realized the truth is when I quit splitting my vote. This self-interest is what a progressive refers to as "brain-damaged." Like many reformed liberals and reformed vote-splitting libertarians, it was an episode like the Tea Party "N-word" brouhaha that pushed me away permanently. Forever listening to the party of the CBC call me stupid is icing on the cake.

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    2. Voting based on self-interest is not brain-damaged. But if you're not a gabilliionare and you think Republican policies actually help you, then I'd say you're missing the big picture.

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    3. So unless I vote the way you say I should and for the reasons you say I should, I'm "brain-damaged"/"missing the big picture." I just told you specifically why I vote as I do. Do you think that I know so much LESS about the state of US politics than you that I haven't taken into account your gabillionaire argument? Do you think I'm a moron because I'm too stupid to not write like a "racist?" There are many different reasons to despise each party more than the other.

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    4. Robert John BurkeJune 19, 2013 at 7:42 PM

      I think writing things that are racist is a moronic thing to do, regardless of anyone's reasons for doing it. It's only going to make the world a worse place for everyone to live.

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    5. "Brain-damaged" was a joke, dude, lighten up. (Notice that the two sentences in that comment contradict each other. That's not an accident.) As to the big picture, of course I think that people who don't vote the way I do -- with a few rare exceptions explicable in terms of immediate self-interest -- are probably missing or misunderstanding something. Those on the other side think exactly the same, which is why I spent all of November reading post-election commentaries from the right that lectured and hectored Democratic voters about how stupid and venal they were. This one, for example:

      http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/postmodernconservative/2012/11/07/its-different-this-time-a-cry-from-the-heart/

      "My fellow citizens who voted for Obama, know this: you have betrayed us, hurt us deeply. I say it especially to those of you over 25. You have done a grave wrong. ....Quite a few of you have declined to take the time and effort to read serious conservative arguments, to expose yourself to conservative interpretations of the news on a regular basis, and you have little or no shame about this, despite what has long been known about our media environment. But it is your duty. One of things that makes you deserving of the right to vote." Etc. etc.

      I think this guy's an arrogant jerk; I'd guess that very few of his own allies have "deserved the right to vote" if it means seriously investigating arguments on the other side. But then, he would probably say that I'm "missing the big picture." Right? That's why we have politics -- because we don't agree about this stuff.

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  5. For whatever reason, our political culture values calling oneself "independent," and discourages people from identifying themselves as party regulars

    Isn't it because we have a two-party system with an electorate that's too large and diverse? Who wants to wear the team shirt of a party that they mostly vote for but barely represents him? It's kind of pathetic to still see Obama 08 bumper stickers in every SWPL-stan. Do they not realize that he's just another Dem?

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    1. What's pathetic is your false belief that Obama voters are stupid, but it makes sense given your assumption that blacks are inferior.

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    2. That's just dead wrong. I recognize that Jews are the most conspicuously intelligent ethnic group in the US and that they are overwhelmingly Democrats. The smartest member of Congress is probably Schumer. I don't know what is about the obvious and amazing over-representation of Jews in positions of high-IQ power and seemingly concomitant D-voting that is so mentally slippery.

      I mean, do you not see that about half of Prof Bernstein's links are to other high-IQ Jews? I do!

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    3. BYF makes a good point about the parties not representing the diversity of the country. This was less an issue when parties used to mean different things in different places, usually with a very localized social base. But now if I call myself a "Republican" just about anyone in the US will imagine me nodding my head through most of Hannity's show. Well, even if I did agree with Hannity more than the other side, that doesn't necessarily mean that I want to identify with him. And so I'd just call myself "independent."

      I also have to disagree with Jonathan on one point: the percentage of true informed independents is definitely much higher than "some fraction of one percent."

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    4. Alright, I'll be dragged in once.

      This is astonishingly ignorant garbage -- it's ignorant, that is of even the "Bell Curve" type of literature it claims to be referencing.

      To be clear: whatever one thinks about the evidence and conclusions in "Bell Curve" and other similar studies -- and to be sure, those conclusions are highly contested at best -- the serious proponents of that research absolutely would not suggest the conclusions that this commenter draws, and has repeatedly drawn, about intelligence of elite groups, or even more so about individuals within elite groups.

      That is, there is nothing whatsoever in anything but explicitly racist work which would suggest a conclusion that Members of Congress would be easily divided by ethnicity over intelligence.

      It's sort of like saying that based on (possibly correct, possibly incorrect) conclusions about foot speed by ethnicity that Mike Trout must be one of the slowest players in baseball.

      Moreover: I'm not much of a Hill insider these days, but over the period where I've had a pretty good sense of Hill reputations it is simply not true that insider reputation for intelligence is linked to ethnicity.

      (Indeed: Chic Hecht!)

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    5. I was referring to Jewish Dem voters as bright, not politicians. Schumer is just a fun example of the stereotype: very Jewish looking and sounding, and smart enough that many Congressors look like halfwits beside him. Purusha is mistaken when he says that I call Dems stupid because (as we all know) Jews are strongly Dem.

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    6. Here's another bit that conforms to the stereotype. It sheds a lot of light on the linking habits of this and many other blogs.

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    7. BYF, do you mind not conforming to your own stereotype quite so much?

      Thanks, Jonathan, for wading in.

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    8. Anonymous,

      JB was responding to a point I didn't make. I'm 'conforming to my own stereotype' because there is relevant science that needs applying to current questions. In order to get what they want, Progressives simply denounce as racist the application of this science. Americans are taught that the word "racist" is their cue to stop thinking, so they do and Progressives then get what they want. Most people are very obedient.

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  6. I have a friend who has Hannity's disease. He's never voted for a Democrat at a state-wide office or higher, but he's adamantly an "Independent". I also like to think that I am an "Independent", even though I have only voted for a GOPper in elections (1) where the Democrat was corrupt; or (2) where I crossed over and voted in a GOP primary (at least 3 times, no shame). Now I live in DC, so really no GOPpers to vote for. But I still have Hannity's disease. I still think I could vote for the *right* Republican. So I see the mindset. And the self-delusion. At the same time.

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    1. For Hannity, it's simply a marketing strategy. By not identifying with a major political party, he retains a certain gravitas to the hoople-heads

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    2. that's actually probably pretty accurate for anybody who claims to be an "independent". it's become socially unacceptable to be a partisan and people label themselves accordingly.

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  7. For whatever reason, our political culture values calling oneself "independent," and discourages people from identifying themselves as party regulars

    Obviously overall true, but there are lots of little political cultures within that larger one that push individuals towards particular self-identifications. When I was in NY I was a registered Democrat because (1) if you want to participate in a party's primaries you have to be registered to that party and (2) it's an actual hassle to change registration. But in NH, if you're a registered independent, you just walk into the polling station and ask for the ballot you want. After voting in a party's primary you're automatically registered to that party -- except that there's a booth by the exit of the room, where all you have to do to reregister as independent is to sign your name once. What would induce me to register Democrat there (for longer than a few minutes)?

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  8. @JB, if the swing vote is really less than 1/9 of the electorate, and the least informed part besides, how do we have shifts in political power?

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    1. True independents are only one ninth. But weak partisans can flip on individual races if there's enough pushing them the other way (for example, in a House election with a no-name challenger and a well-liked incumbent, lots of weak partisans in the out-party will vote for the incumbent).

      And then there's turnout effects. Even with 100% partisanship, turnout ebb and flows would make things at least somewhat volatile.

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    2. I'm repeatedly amazed at how pundits use the word "independent" as a shorthand for "swing voter" and even imply that the election comes down to which candidate wins the independent vote, despite the fact that this doesn't always happen. (Obama in 2012 lost the independent vote by five percentage points.) If you look at exit polls throughout the years, you'll always see a certain percentage of self-identifying Democrats and Republicans who vote for the candidate from the other party. In 1980 and 1984, about one-fourth of Democrats voted for Reagan.

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