Independent voters helped sweep President Obama and other Democrats into office in the last two election cycles. But with less than six weeks to go before the 2010 midterms, independent voters are swinging decisively to the Republican side, according to a report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
According to the report, almost half of independent voters say they are planning to cast ballots for Republicans this year. Janis Nadler of Haverford, Pa., who was at an upscale shopping mall in a Philadelphia suburb, is one of them.
"I think there's a backlash, and I'm going to probably be part of the backlash of people who won't vote for the Democrats," he says.
Nadler says she doesn't like the Democrats' health care overhaul, or the way they have tried to revive the struggling economy.
"This shopping center is not very full. And usually there's a lot of people around here. I'm a realtor," she says. "And I think that it's affecting my business, and the ability of people to buy and sell houses."
Blaming Both Parties
The widespread defection of independent voters appears to spell big trouble for Democrats. According to Pew, voters who don't register as a member of any party now make up the largest block of the electorate, at 38 percent.
Although it's tough to generalize about such a broad group of voters, they do seem to have some things in common: Almost two-thirds of independent voters polled by Pew say both major parties care more about special interests than average people.
"The same old, same old," says Jennifer Bullock, a psychotherapist in Jenkintown, Pa. "I mean, look at the panel of people that are overseeing the economic recovery and the stimulus. It's the same people that got us into this!"
Bullock says none of the major party candidates talk about the issues that matter most to her. She wants to see political reform, starting with opening up the state's primary elections to independent voters.
"They don't talk about it at all," she says. "It's like, let's just put on expensive TV ads attacking one another's resumes.
"That turns off me and other independents ... in a hot second. So what they need to be doing is really talk to independents."
'Paralyzed By Partisanship'
Still, Bullock says she supports President Obama. So do Mark Balsam and Yvone Vazquez of rural Bucks County, Pa. They both voted for Obama two years ago, but neither seems excited about the candidates in this election.
I will vote for somebody, probably," Balsam says. "I don't feel highly motivated, I guess."
"I might not vote at all, period," Vazquez says.
Vazquez lost her job as a social services administrator and her health insurance in December 2009. She says she is glad Obama tried to overhaul the health care system, but she wishes the health care law did more sooner.
"It's so complicated, so convoluted, so bureaucratic, that it left people feeling totally left alone," she says.
Balsam says he thinks the two major parties seem more concerned with getting re-elected than solving the nation's problems.
"The country is paralyzed by partisanship," he says. "That's got to change. If that doesn't change, then it doesn't matter who's elected."
But as Balsam admits, that partisan gridlock is likely to continue if independent voters push Republicans to big gains in Congress this fall.