Independents Give Republicans Big Edge: Pew Survey : It's All Politics A new Pew poll shows political independents giving Republicans a big edge due to their anger with the party in power, a trend in recent years. They are specifically upset with President Obama's handling of the economy.
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Independents Give Republicans Big Edge: Pew Survey

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Independents Give Republicans Big Edge: Pew Survey

Independents Give Republicans Big Edge: Pew Survey

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Since Democrats and Republicans only account for about two-thirds of the electorate nationwide, the voters who typically decide our elections are neither Republican nor Democratic. They are independents.

We've been hearing for much of this year that independents, who favored Barack Obama and the Democrats two years ago, are trending Republican. And today, the Pew Research Center has some polling data to support that view.

Andrew Kohut, the president of Pew, joins me now.

Hi, Andy.

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: And you polled a pretty big sample of independents.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah, 2,800 registered voters. Therefore, about 37 percent of that sample are independents. The number of independents in the country is at one of the high points in the past 20 years. Only 34 percent were independent in 2008, so it's a growing category of people who aren't comfortable with either party. But...

SIEGEL: It seems they're especially uncomfortable with the Democrats this year.

Mr. KOHUT: They are uncomfortable with the Democrats because they represent the party in power. And they're voting - they say they're going to vote for Republican candidates by a 13-point margin, 49 to 36. But in the two previous elections, they voted Democratic - voting against the party of power, 52 to 44 in 2008, and voting for the Democrats rather than the Republicans who controlled the House, 57 to 39.

So they are really - they've been un-tethered lately. The most we can say about them consistently is they haven't been pleased. And they are certainly not pleased in 2010.

SIEGEL: Now, the label independent covers a lot of ground. When we talk about independents, who are these people?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, they are largely middle-income, middle-class people. They have a wide range of demographics. They're a microcosm of the United States. Republicans tend to be affluent, Democrats a little less affluent. And independents tend to be middle class, and they come in all stripes and shapes and colors.

SIEGEL: Republicans would look at this data and feel very good about November. Is there anything in there that Democrats could take any hope from?

Mr. KOHUT: Yes. What we see among independents, when you look at all of the registered voters, it's a pretty close division of support for both parties -about a two-point margin for the Republicans. But when you narrow the sample to likely voters, the Republicans have a big margin because the Democrats are really not very - the independents who lean Democratic or disposed to the Democrats really are not engaged as much as the people who are inclined to vote Republican.

SIEGEL: So the silver lining you're saying is if the Democrats get out a lot of people to vote, they stand a better chance.

Mr. KOHUT: They stand a better chance. They stand a chance of reducing the number of seats they're going to lose. I mean, it's clear from this poll and every other poll the Democrats are going to lose seats. How many seats they lose will largely depend upon turnout. And turnout among independents is a very important factor.

SIEGEL: Yeah, there's something counterintuitive about independents. I would assume that people who register with a party are more likely to be politically engaged and therefore more likely to vote - not so.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah, one of the striking things is how energized independents are. We find 48 percent of them saying they've given this election a lot of thought. That's one of the highest numbers we've ever seen for independents. And it's higher than the 41 percent of Democrats themselves who say they've given it a lot of thought.

Now, in the long run, Democrats will catch up and more of them will vote than independents. But we're going to see relatively more independent voting because they are so energized and because many of them are angry. And the angrier they are, the more energized they are, the more inclined they are to vote Republican.

SIEGEL: Andy, good to see you again. Thanks.

Mr. KOHUT: Good to see you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

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