Independents are herds of cats who find out what they think through a meandering process of discovery. Right now, independent voters are astonishingly volatile. Democrats did poorly in elections on Tuesday partly because of disappointed liberals who think that President Obama is moving too slowly, but mostly because of anxious suburban independents who think he is moving too fast. In Pennsylvania, there was an eight-point swing away from the Democrats among independents from a year ago. In New Jersey, there was a 12-point swing. In Virginia, there was a 13-point swing.[….]
Independents support the party that seems most likely to establish a frame of stability and order, within which they can lead their lives. They can’t always articulate what they want, but they withdraw from any party that threatens turmoil and risk. As always, they’re looking for a safe pair of hands.
Too often in “mainstream” political analysis, once it is pointed out that independents have swung in one or another direction, the analysis stops. The pundit inserts his own opinion about what caused the independent vote to shift (“Obama’s far-reaching proposals and mounting spending”, says the Washington Post), without citing any evidence. It’s a neat trick, and someone who isn’t paying attention is liable to conclude that the pundit has actually said something interesting.
But in New Jersey, there’s literally almost no evidence that the Democrats’ agenda had anything to do with Jon Corzine’s defeat. Voters who cited a national issue were more likely to vote for Corzine, and voters who cited a local one, the Republican Chris Christie.
The whole Bobo piece is a classic, from the jigsaw puzzle he played with as a kid to the “America moved to the right” meme. The Sulzbergers must be very proud of him.
This just in: David Brooks is a dishonest, lazy, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-scholarly jackass valued because of his fake tone of bipartisanship in his hack advocacy of conservative policies. Film at 11.
Well, no. That’s why they’re independents – they haven’t found a party to identify with, and their views are so diverse that no party could represent them.
One problem with the human mind is that it works on narrative. Any narrative will do, even if it’s complete bullshit. People need explanations to make sense of things.
Take for example the two stories: “Bob and Jill seemed happily married. Bob murdered Jill.” vs – “Bob and Jill seemed happily married. Bob murdered Jill because he caught her sleeping with another man.” The second seems more plausible because there is an explanation given, but the first is more plausible because there is no explanation given – it could be anything. Maybe Bob went insane, or wanted her inheritance.
Our minds are so hardwired for this, we are willing to pay people to mislead us with narratives that are pulled straight from the anus… Enter Bobo and just about every other pundit on the planet. This nonsense will never, ever stop.
Independents voted with their feet and left Applebee’s when they realized there was no salad bar. They were also horrified to discover that you can pay more than $20 for an entree at Red Lobster. This was not what they were promised by David Brooks.
conservatism is also noxious, like gas. and inflexible, like a solid.
@El Cid: win.
i would not call mistah Brooks a hack; i’d say he was a master of misdirection. gotta say it seems to work really well, at least if you don’t look too closely. takes talent to hide the wires as well as he does.
“Independents support the party that seems most likely to establish a frame of stability and order, within which they can lead their lives. They can’t always articulate what they want, but they withdraw from any party that threatens turmoil and risk. As always, they’re looking for a safe pair of hands.”
The paragraph describes David Brooks, personally. The same is true of Chris Matthews, and his theories, and Pat Buchanan, and his theories.
They have to stop talking about themselves. It’s not just boring, it’s so completely transparently self-referential that it’s cringe-making. I’m embarrassed for them.
Compare Nate Silver’s analysis to any of the others. What’s missing is…Nate Silver. He’s not in there. He has a certain style, and it’s interesting to read, but he doesn’t write about himself.
This media narrative about independents moving away from the Democrats is driving me crazy. The independents in one election aren’t the same people as the independents in the next. It seems obvious that two things explain the “movement” among independents. First, this electorate was much smaller and more Republican-leaning than last year’s — Republican-leaning independents were motivated to come out, and Democratic-leaning independents stayed home.
Second, identification with the Republican Party has been plummeting, and those people now embarrassed to call themselves Republicans are now calling themselves independents, but they’re still voting Republican. Is there any evidence that people have changed their minds about Obama, rather than changing their level of motivation to vote or their party affiliation?
further, i’ve always felt that independents are liberals who don’t self identify. people who weigh the issues and come down on the side that makes the most sense.
of course a lot of them are just ditherers who blow with the wind…
This is the right approach to such “expertise” and the punditarian “analysis” by which we are constantly bombarded:
Who knew that if you promised to magically lower property taxes, possibly through the use of equal parts fairy dust and unicorn piss, suburbanites might actually vote for you. But I forget… all politics is national. People never use state issues as criteria for picking state candidates.
As for Brooks, his ability to reaffirm his a priori judgments with shallow analysis is indeed dizzying to behold. I particularly like this part:
This from the guy who correctly identified the House Republican leader as “insane” for proposing a spending freeze in the middle of a recession. I guess we lost him.
And as Bobo goes, so goes the nation.
Actual independents are quite rare. In the last few elections, the great majority of independents either regularly vote very conservative Republican or very liberal Democrat, but list themselves formally as Independents.
This notion that there’s a vast majority of completely centrist “independents” just waiting for a candidate to serve them warm milk and speak in soft tones is ridiculous.
@Sly: wasn’t he talking about restraint the other day? would it be irresponsible to speculate that Brooks is really saying America needs more BDSM?
And remember, though there’s no inflation nor any detectable sign of inflation, the biggest problem we face is inflation, because, shut up, and here’s an advertisement to buy gold.
I find the gushing worship of independents within the media to be hysterical. Also that the likes of Bobo feel quite confident in describing the particular desires, feelings, instinctual and somewhat mystical path to forming political opinions and selecting their leaders, and even broad ideology of independents (centre-right, small government naturally), people whose unifying characteristic is… having no particular party allegiance. They represent a very broad range of ideology, but due to dissatisfaction with the party that purportedly represents their views, or a generally independent mindset, or not wishing to associate and feel any sort of burden to stand up for a particular party when things get rough for them, have decided not to affiliate.
If you cater to Independents, you lose the Independents. It’s not possible to worry about Independents without losing your own agenda and the Independents that are on board with it.
This is like financial reporting: “Stocks dropped today on profit taking.” Why, did you ask any major investors what they did (doubtful) and did they actually agree to tell you? All the reporter did was find one fact (the DJIA dropped), took a narrative (the stock markets are doing well), and put a bunch of words in people’s mouths to enforce the narrative.
It also adds some phony analysis, since if all the reporter wrote was what was supportable by known facts, you realize you don’t need this overpaid reporter, you just need the free stock ticker on your laptop.
Sure, there is real financial reporting, like there is real political reporting. There just isn’t a lot of it, because it’s real work and might make the wrong people unhappy.
I look at those TABOR Amendments that lost in Washington and Maine and draw my conclusions. If you were to write teabagger ideology into a law you would come up with the spending caps and tax cuts text of a TABOR law. Conservative ideology was actually put to a vote on Tuesday and it got its ass kicked.
I love, love, love that David Brooks has now redefined himself as an Independent, because he can’t be a teabagger, and no way in hell is he going to be a Democrat, so all he did was decide that Independents are just like David Brooks.
Independent is the new “Republican”. That’s what they’re selling.
@dSquib: Yeah, the Independent Party is one of the Broder/Bobo set’s favorite cliches. It’s like describing the folks milling around the Metro station at rush hour as “attending a meeting.” I think the key to the success of the Bobos is they give an identity to the careerist assholes they hang around with, i.e.,”I’m a man of principle, I’m an Independent.” Yeah, like a mercenary.
Yes and no. Even if reporters (financial and otherwise) were honest and said “We don’t know” every time they did not know, people would change the channel in order to watch someone who claims that they do know. Narrative is how we make sense of the world. That’s why hacks like David Brooks don’t get canned for being completely full of shit.
You know — it took me three days and 2400 words to get the taste of BoBo’s last bit of nonsense out of my mouth. And now this.
Bobo does not think. If a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems, then Bobo is one that turns the delicate scent of his own afflatus into valentines for the powerful.
@sparky: exactly. What makes Bobo so dangerous/evil is that he is good at what he does, unlike lesser lights, the Douthats and McArdles of the world.
Dunno about America, but the NYT Op-Ed page sure does.
Just not with Douthat.
@kay: This gets it, I think. Remember that the baseline vote for a major party national candidate, no matter how awful, is on the order of 40 percent of voters, probably a little higher.
GOP identification is well below that now. But the other 10-20 percent that are reliably going to vote for Bill the Cat, as long as lines up on the GOP ticket, are now calling themselves “independents.” Same goes for folks on the other side, though w. Democratic party ID still much more robust than GOP, I’d guess their numbers within the pool of alledged independents are smaller than those of their right wing friends.
Also, per a lot f Nate Silver analysis, many of the “true” independents are in fact low interest, low participation voters. If you really don’t know much, and don’t care all that passionately, then you may well be independent in that you’ll pull the lever for anyone. But you aren’t a voter to whom any party that actually wants to claim power can rely on.
I hate the “some say XYZ…” style of writing. It’s lazy, and it almost always really means “I say XYZ…” Bobo is the worst, but hardly the only practioner.
All of this analysis is stupid.
If people are abandoning the Republican party in droves and becoming “independent”, aren’t they going to move the polling numbers on independents to the right? Why doesn’t anyone point this out?
@thomas Levenson: i am SO taking that phrase. but with attribution. srlsy.
Bobo is in charge of the 99 cent value menu for the intellectual fast-food restaurant known as the NY Times op-ed stable of columnists.
I completely agree. The poll Brooks relies on here is useless, in my opinion. It asks people to identify themselves as “conservative” but doesn’t define conservative. In the poll itself a lot of registered Democrats define themselves as “conservative”. That doesn’t mean they’re voting for Republicans.
off topic but hilarious
Forklift driver fail
@kay: I would wager that a fair number of independents who claim they are ‘conservative’, are exactly like all those people who, when asked about their religion, claim to be Christian.
Even if they haven’t said a prayer nor stepped foot in a church in years.
I would add that Democrats are being a little delusional, too. I think Republicans are identifying as “Independents” because they can’t identify as Republicans, lest they be mistaken for people that are insane and unserious: a “Republican”.
I think looking at the Dem/Rep gap in Party ID is overly optimistic, for Democrats.
I’d do what you did. Add some of the so-called “Independents” to the GOP column, because that’s what they are, and that’s how they’ll vote, and not rely on Party ID differential.
Brooks, of course, goes off into la-la land and insists that all Independents are inherently conservative, which is way too optimistic the other way.
@El Cid: Truly outstanding.
I think of economists, by and large, as one part weather man, one part witch doctor, one part ideologue.
Krugman is a rare exception to that set of pompous jackasses. Apparently Taleb is another, and good for him. Might buy his book now.
Dammit, I’m “conservative”, and I suspect a lot of the “liberals” on BJ are as well. I believe in the importance of family, and marriage, hard work, reward for hard work, treating others as you would wish to be treated, and government staying the hell out of my bedroom – all good conservative values. I’m even scandalously wish washy about the death penalty.
However, I have never voted for our “Liberal” Party (which is our Republican equivalent)….
That said, our state Labor government is so fundamentally incompetent and corrupted that, next year, for the first time I will be voting for the other side.
The fetishization of independents as this group of 25% of the electorate neatly straddling the ideological lines of the two parties is one of the worst aspects of political reporting. The independents whom the media refers to*–who can vote Bush in 04 and then Obama in 08 and now Chris Christie in 09–are stupid, stupid people. That they are held up as paragons of intellect who are not beholden to any party is so ridiculous that it makes me vomit.
Plus when asked about issues it becomes clear that many of them are left leaning or liberal.
@Napoleon: Or is it that opinions that are generally characterized as left leaning or liberal are actually mainstream?
@kay: In America, the GOP has successfully redefined ‘liberal’, in the popular consciousness, to mean ‘dirty fucking hippy who wants to smoke dope while doing your teenage daughter up the ass’, and conservative as a cross between Leave it to Beaver and the noble American pioneer spirit (putting aside the fate of all those non-white people).
Of COURSE more people identify themselves as ‘conservative’. It’s a loaded term, pollsters know it’s a loaded term, and they keep asking about it because they WANT to skew the results.
I am continually baffled by the “Obama is moving too fast” thing. HE HASN’T DONE SQUAT!
Except give all our money away to the bankers and forfeit all reasonable likelihood of fundamental change in our broken system. I wish he were a jerk so I could hate him.
Ed in NJ
Actually, you are wrong about NJ. 46% of NJ residents are unaffiliated, and in only 2 of 21 counties statewide does the Democratic Party registration outnumber unaffiliated voters. Even with a recent shift away from GOP registration, the split is only 34-20 Democrat. In the 1990s, when Whitman was elected, there were actually almost 60% unaffiliated, so the idea that in NJ the independents are disaffected GOP is patently false.
Lost in the supposed referendum that was Corzine’s loss is that the legislature remained in Democratic hands and a $400 million bond issue that was heavily targeted by right wing groups passed. Obama has a 58% approval in the state yet 25% of those voters voted for Christie. This is truly and independent, or purple, state.
This was a referendum on Corzine. The only saving grace is that Christie seems to recognize that he needs to work with the Democrats to be successful. He has brought some prominent Democrats onto his transition team and has made improving inner city education his first priority, so he isn’t exactly crediting his victory to Obama backlash.
“We’re only made of water / The full moon gets us high / We can change our shape to anything / As often as we like.” *** (music)
Absolutely. I live in an area where a lot of the registered Democrats would describe themselves as you just did.
Since Brooks has been voicing this “too much, too fast” meme since at least the stimulus debate, he has to continue to cherry pick outcomes that support his assertion and establish his bona fides as political oracle and “serious thinker.” The alternative that Obama is actually moving too slow and not doing enough to rally the Dem base and make converts of left-leaning independents, as Krugman makes the case for today, cannot possibly be brought into the equation because that might prove Bobo wrong…heaven forfend.
I have real sympathy for older, religious Democrats who have been labeled as “liberals”, in the dishonest way that conservatives have defined that term. I talk to them here and it’s huge, with them.
They sort of recite their “traditional values” bona fides: veteran, married, homeowner, “I work hard!”. Ugh. I want to ask them why they are telling me this. I wasn’t questioning their bona fides.
I get mad on two levels, 1. that conservatives have successfully put them on the defensive, and 2. that they so completely bought the frame that conservatives sold, or they wouldn’t be defensive.
Well, he completely ignored the exit polls. I don’t know if they’re worth anything, honestly, but if he’s going to rely on one poll to indicate this huge shift away from Obama-liberalism, he probably has to include the exit polls where voters said they weren’t voting a referendum on the federal legislative agenda.
Honestly, why would anyone vote for a particular Governor to shift Congress? They’re not political operatives. They’re not working toward some long-term national goal of winning specific races. He’s claiming they’re these wandering swing voters who all of a sudden, en masse, settled on a broad political goal, that begins in New jersey and Virginia.
In reality that may be a better way of looking at it.
But I also believe, as do many of them, in abortion rights, social justice, legalisation of drugs, gay marriage, and that pesky global warming.
Add in being a big ol’ gay and I suspect I’m not allowed to call myself “conservative”, although we could all make good conservative arguments for each of those positions.
Wait just a fokking minute … pundits make statements of causation without citing any evidence, says Silver?
The next thing you will be telling me is that bloggers do the same thing, I suppose?
How are we to function, with these trusted illusions shattered so?
Thanks Doug for ruining another morning for me.
Kay, all your comments here today have just been great.
They pick and choose, because they’re complicated, and have OPINIONS.
Our county Party chair is a railroad retiree who once referred to President Obama as a “colored”, and has suggested I get ‘the ladies” together for a bake sale. Egads. Still, he voted a straight Democratic ticket, partly on gay equality issues, because his grown daughter is gay. He’s animated and articulate on that, and he has a bumper sticker IN the window of his truck (not ON the truck, because it’s spotless) that says “hate is not a family value”. You never can tell.
@Jim: The fetishization of independents as this group of 25% of the electorate neatly straddling the ideological lines of the two parties is one of the worst aspects of political reporting. The independents whom the media refers to*—who can vote Bush in 04 and then Obama in 08 and now Chris Christie in 09—are stupid, stupid people.
This is the projection of High Broderism on the great unwashed. The pundit fantasy is that your basic independent is a scrupulously neutral logical being who carefully weighs the issues, or at least what supposedly are issues according to Broder, and dispassionately votes on those without any thought to the parties themselves. The fact that the Broderesque “issues” are cherry picked Republican shibboleths is dutifully ignored.
I remember some analysis of independent voters, and not only did many of them have a very poor grasp of the issues, they didn’t even understand what a political issue was. The concept that the government could actually do something about pollution, job creation, education or the like was foreign to them. So all they’ve got to work with is who they like or “trust” more, with zero understanding of what they’re actually voting for.
Thank you. It’s been an awful week for me at work ( “crying alone in the car bad”, as my sister says) and nationally, too, I’d have to say, so thanks for that kindness.
@Ed in NJ: I did not state that “the independents are disaffected GOP”, but that the evidence from the last several national elections are that the majority of those people who identify themselves as “Independent” or simply who do not choose to identify as (D) or (R) overwhelmingly are either strong liberal Democratic voters or strong liberal Republican voters.
I didn’t say this was an axiom of what must always be true in every location. I stated a pretty simple empirical observation. In states in which you need not be registered in a party in order to vote in a primary, this can even be more significant.
I.e., Nate Silver:
Part of the problem is that ‘independents’ are not a particularly coherent group. At a minimum, the category of ‘independents’ includes:
1) People who are mainline Democrats or Republicans for all intents and purposes, but who reject the formality of being labeled as such;
2) People who have a mix of conservative and liberal views that don’t fit neatly onto the one-dimensional political spectrum, such as libertarians;
3) People to the extreme left or the extreme right of the political spectrum, who consider the Democratic and Republican parties to be equally contemptible;
4) People who are extremely disengaged from politics and who may not have fully-formed political views;
5) True-blue moderates;
6) Members of organized third parties.
These voters have almost nothing to do with each other and yet they all get grouped under the same umbrella as ‘independents’.
But that’s getting away from the point. Independent voters are treated as a cause, when all that they really are is a symptom. The key is in figuring out what ails the patient.
@kay: I get what you’re saying, but at the same time my sympathy tends toward the people who society feels are worthless and suitable to ignore, just because they’re unmarried/irreligious/gay/apartment dwellers.
It says something wrong about our society that being married or owning a home is a character defense at all.
Funny, my conception of the perfectly indecisive “independent” is somebody who thinks saying “I think both parties is corrupt” is some sort of penetrating insight.
Leelee for Obama
@kay: Kay, I just want to say I’m sending you a hug to use when the sitting in the car time comes again. I know what you mean by that, even if I don’t know what’s causing you pain. Please know I’m thinking of you, Hon. You have always been a rock around this blog, and I’m sorry things are not good.
Laura the Lurker
There are all kinds of Independents, for all kinds of different reasons. I understand the frustration with David Broder–in actuality, I’m probably more frustrated with it than you are, because I really am an Independent and his characterization of what Independents are feeling right now doesn’t fit me at all, and I kind of resent his claiming to speak for me–but please let’s not go the other way and start bashing Independents as all idiots. Okay? Please?
I’m one of those that tends to vote with one party much more than the other—in my case, for the last 10 years or so it’s been Democrats. I’ve even considered whether I might as well just start calling myself a Democrat, since in practice that’s what I am.
Why don’t I? It’s really a state of mind more than anything else, I guess. I think I’m going to have a hard time explaining this, but mostly it’s a question of just wanting to keep an emotional distance. A lot of partisans seem to me to be basically a lot like football fans, just rooting for their own team, and I don’t want to do that.
The Democrats are making more sense at the moment, and many Republicans appear to be insane and paranoid, so Democrat it is, for now. But I don’t feel any loyalty to the party itself, at all.
If the conservative side would come up with their version of Ezra Klein, and started talking data points and surveys and study papers, and made it logical, they might be able to convince me to support them on some issues (although likely not all.) They’re not even trying these days, though, so I’ve become a Democrat-leaner more or less by default.
But I suspect I might be really unusual, so I don’t claim to speak for Independents as a whole. Who knows?
I’m not even sure why I’m trying to explain it, actually. When I read over what I wrote, it all seems really self-serving. I guess what I’m saying is, some of us Independents really are looking for substance and issues. I just wanted to say that, I guess. But I also wanted to say, for those who are, I personally don’t see any reason at all why the Republicans would be the more appealing party.
Back to lurking.
I agree. In their defense, though, these are the bona fides they submit because they’re first generation middle class. People who are completely comfortable in the “landowner class” don’t brag about having a mortgage.
@Leelee for Obama:
I just had a bad week. Every once in a while I get completely invested in an outcome because I get personally invested in a client. I can count them on two hands, because I think I’m most helpful to people when I stay rigidly practical, and don’t get sappy, and I try very, very hard to do that, and mostly succeed.
But, some of them sneak up on you, and the next thing you know, you lose at hearing, and you’re sitting in the driveway, crying in the car. This losing took so long, because I managed to delay and delay and delay, since March, hoping I’d get something to win with. But, I didn’t.
But thanks so much for saying that.
Leelee for Obama
@kay: Yeah, it’s hard to stay objective sometimes. Even though I’m not an attorney, there are other, less important, careers where a person or an issue sneaks in and grabs you and when you can’t make it work the way you want, it’s a bitchy feeling. Hope things perk up for you.
@Leelee for Obama:
Oh, I agree. It’s happened to me in every job I’ve ever had. “It isn’t FAIR!”, is what I’d like to say this afternoon.
And then fall down on the floor, kick and scream, and have a tantrum.
I used the word “bullshit” twice in one sentence during heated “negotiations” (screaming match) and I knew I had completely lost it, because I try not to cuss in front of the juveniles. Noun and adjective, which is embarrassing. It was scandalous.
Obama needs to hire Nate Silver and Jon Stewart- and kick Summers and Geithner to the curb.
And it’s a defense mechanism as much as anything else. People hate the idea of being played so much that they choose to preemptively declare all and anyone involved in politics as “corrupt”. That way you can never get hurt.
maybe if we just called them “unaffiliated” they wouldn’t carry this automatic weight in Bobo and his ilk’s mind of keen, cool discernment, of being the modern day standard bearers of the frontier spirit tradition, scoffing at the partisan herd, taking the road less traveled blah blah blah.
Mind you, I’m an “independent” I suppose. Though I’d likely never vote Republican at any level. I’m not especially enamoured of the current Dem line up. I’ve voted for third parties in my home country. In fact I mostly vote for a third party in my country.
licensed to kill time
I’d like to say that I always find kay’s comments concise, to the point, and so well said that I usually find myself thinking “dang, why can’t I write like that?” I really appreciate the thought that goes into your posts, thank you.
People like Matthews and Brooks and Broder got confused into believing that “independents” and “moderates” were the same thing. And, no offense meant to Laura the Lurker, but sometimes my reaction to the proudly-declared “independent” is similar to my reaction to people who say they don’t watch TV. It seems rather lofty and above-it-all.
So let’s see, in NJ people who were most concerned with national issues tended to voted Democratic. In NY 23 Republicans aggressively sought to nationalize the election and lost…