Why independent voters are abandoning the Democrats

More independent voters are siding with Republican candidates over the Democrats, a recent poll shows. The lackluster economic recovery and dislike of the health-care reform law are two reasons.

Steve Ruark/AP
In this Oct. 22 photo, Bea Seliger (l.) and her husband Howard Seliger, both of Baltimore, arrive to cast early votes in Maryland's general election, in Baltimore.

With Election Day almost upon us, there’s increasing evidence that independent voters are abandoning Democrats and aligning with congressional candidates from the Republican Party. That’s a key reason the GOP seems likely to gain control of at least the House, if not the House and Senate, as a result of voting next week.

The latest bit of news confirming this trend is a new Politico/George Washington University Battleground poll. This survey, released Monday, finds that independents are favoring Republicans over Democrats by a 14-point margin.

Self-described independents may have backed Barack Obama in 2008, but they aren’t happy with much of what Democrats have accomplished since then. Sixty-two percent of independents have an unfavorable view of President Obama’s health-care reform legislation, according to the Politico/GWU poll. Sixty-six percent say the administration’s efforts to get the economy going again aren’t working.

“ ’Hope and change’ has crashed into the economic realities,” said Chris Arterton, professor of political management at George Washington University, in a statement accompanying the poll results. “Unless some drastic event shakes up the present dynamics, we will be headed in what the Japanese would call a ‘twisted’ Congress, with the House under Republican leadership and the Senate run by the Democrats.”

The tectonic shift in which many independents in essence are morphing into Republican voters can be seen in other polls, too. A Gallup poll released Friday found that only 23 percent of independent voters agree that “most members of Congress deserve reelection.” The similar figure for Republican voters is 21 percent, according to Gallup, while 59 percent of Democrats say most US representatives should be returned to office.

Democrats have actually become more positive on this measure in recent weeks, meaning that attempts by Mr. Obama and other party bigwigs to rally their base may be having some effect. But if you mash all the groups together, only 33 percent of voters overall think incumbents deserve to win. That’s the lowest such percentage prior to a midterm election that Gallup has found in the past 16 years.

Back in 1994, for example, 38 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll said most members of Congress deserved reelection. That year, the GOP gained 54 seats and their first House majority since 1954.

“The current 33% reading thus can be interpreted as a signal of significant pending change as voters operationalize these sentiments in the voting booth on Election Day,” concludes a Gallup analysis of this data.

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