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How important is the independent vote and have they decided any presidential elections?

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How important is the independent vote and have they decided any presidential elections?

It’s easy to answer that question. Thanks to Roper, they provide the information. Roper gives us the percentage of both parties who voted in each presidential election going back to 1976 and the independent vote break down to each major party’s candidates.

https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/poll...ps-voted-2016/

2016 Hillary Clinton 48% vs Donald Trump 46% vs Third Party Candidates 6%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 37%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 33%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 31%

Hillary’s Democratic base advantage, 4 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Trump 46-42 over Clinton with 12% voting third party narrowing Hillary’s base advantage from 4 points to 2. Although the independent vote wasn’t enough for Trump to win the popular vote, it only narrowed it. Winning the independent vote was enough for him to win the three deciding states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania narrowly and thus the election. Without winning the independent vote, Trump would have never won the presidency.

2012 Barack Obama 51% vs Mitt Romney 47%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 38%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 32%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 29%

Obama’s Democratic base advantage, 6 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Romney 50-45 with 5% voting third party narrowing Obama’s base advantage from 6 points to 4. Unlike 2016 where the independent vote was decisive, in 2012 it wasn’t as it only narrowed Obama’s and the Democratic base advantage two points. Not enough for Romney to win.

2008 Barack Obama 53% vs John McCain 45%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 39%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 32%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 29%

Obama’s Democratic base advantage, 7 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Obama 52-44 with 4% voting third party increasing Obama’s base advantage from 7 points to 8. Once again, the independent vote wasn’t decisive. Independents only increased Obama’s size of victory.

2004 John Kerry 48% vs George W. Bush 51%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 37%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 37%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 26%

Neither party had a base advantage. Independents voted for Kerry 50-48 over Bush. Independents made no difference. Bush won because he won his base vote 93-6 over Kerry. While Kerry carried the Democratic base by 89-11. Democrats voting for Bush along with his Republican base vote carried Bush to victory, not independents. 9-11 was probably the deciding factor in Bush receiving 11% of the Democratic base vote.

2000 Al Gore 48% vs George W. Bush 48%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 39%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 35%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 26%

Gore and the Democratic base had a 4-point advantage over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Bush 48-46 with 6% voting third party narrowing Gore’s and the Democratic base advantage from 4 to 2 points. But like in 2004, it was Bush’s base vote, him winning the Republican base by a 91-8 margin while Gore won his Democratic base vote 86-11 over Bush with 3% voting third party. Winning the independent vote helped Bush and along with gaining more Democratic voters than Gore did Republican put Bush into the White House. One can’t say the independent vote was decisive. But without winning the independent vote, Bush wouldn’t have won. But he also wouldn’t have won without receiving more Democratic base votes than Gore received Republican base votes.

1996 Bill Clinton 49% vs Bob Dole 41% vs Ross Perot 9%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 40%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 35%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 22%

Clinton’s Democratic base advantage, 5 points over the Republican Base. Clinton won independents 44-37 over Dole with 18% voting for Perot. Winning independents helped Clinton increase his margin of victory from the 5 point Democratic base advantage to an 8-point win. Clinton also drew more Republican base votes than Dole did Democratic base votes by a 13-10 margin enabling Bill to win by 8 instead of 5. Perot, although he drew 9% of the vote, didn’t have an effect on the outcome. Once again, independents weren’t decisive.

1992 Bill Clinton 43% vs George H.W. Bush 37% vs Ross Perot 19%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 38%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 35%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 27%

Clinton’s Democratic base advantage, 3 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Clinton 38-32 over Bush with 30% for Perot. Winning independents helped push Bill Clinton’s Democratic base advantage from 3 points to 6. Perot drew 17% of the Republican base vote to 13% from the Democratic base. Thus, Perot also helped increase Clinton’s size of victory by perhaps a point. The independent vote wasn’t decisive. Independents only increased the size of Clinton’s of victory.

1988 Michael Dukakis 46% vs George H.W. Bush 53%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 37%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 35%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 26%

Dukakis’s Democratic base advantage, 2 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Bush 57-43 over Dukakis obliterating the Democratic advantage of 2 points into a 7-point win. Although Bush couldn’t have won without winning the Independent vote, the independent vote caused this election to be a rout.

1984 Walter Mondale 41% vs Ronald Reagan 59%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 38%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 35%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 26%

Mondale’s Democratic base advantage, 3 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Reagan 64-36 over Mondale easily erasing Mondale’s 3 point Democratic base advantage into a whopping 18-point victory. It must be noted Reagan received 26% of the Democratic base vote while Mondale received only 7% of the Republican base. With that many of the Democratic Base voting for Ronnie, he didn’t need to win the independent vote.

1980 Jimmy Carter 41% vs Ronald Reagan 51% vs John Anderson 8%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 43%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 28%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 23%

Carter’s Democratic base advantage, 15 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Reagan 56-31 over Carter with 13% voting for John Anderson. Independents certainly helped Reagan erase Carter’s 15-point base advantage into a 10-point win. But winning 27% of Carter’s Democratic base vote made this election a rout for Ronnie. Anderson had no effect on this election.

1976 Jimmy Carter 50% vs Ford 48%

Democratic base percentage of the total vote or who voted 37%
Republican base percentage of the total vote or who voted 22%
Independent percentage of the total vote or who voted 41%

Carter’s Democratic base advantage, 15 points over the Republican Base. Independents voted for Ford 52-48 which help erase some of Carter’s 15-point base advantage. But once again it was Ford gaining 20% of the Democratic base vote that made this election close. Carter received 11% of the Republican base vote.

I think we can say the independent vote decided the 2016 election. That without the independent vote, G.W. Bush never would have won in 2000 although he needed help from the Democratic base. For the rest, independents reinforced the results with their votes. Looking at 1976 and 1980 we can see the end of the Democratic big tent party which Reagan helped end. You can also see this via the graph from Pew Research. Where the Big Tent Democratic Party ranged between 40-51% of the total electorate from FDR to Reagan, then dropped into the mid-thirties after Ronnie down to 29% today.

Trends in Party Identification, 1939-2014 | Pew Research Center

But that is a subject for another day. Independents can be the decisive vote in close elections like in 2016 and 2000. But in routs or big victories for one candidate over the other, their vote enhances the winners margin. Since 1976 there has been three close elections. In 1976, Independents helped Ford close a huge base gap, but not enough to allow Ford to win. In 2000, Independents once again help G.W. Bush close the base gap, but it took a combination of some of the Democratic base voters along with Independents for Bush to win. In 2016, the independent vote was decisive in Trump’s victory. Especially in the critical states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

While independents helped decide only two past elections and made one close, I expect them to become more decisive in the future as they become a larger segment of the electorate. From 2000-2006 those who identified themselves as independents made up 30% of the total electorate. By 2010 independents had climbed to 35% of the total electorate and hit 40% in 2014. Today according to Gallup, independents now number 45% of the electorate. I think winning them is fast becoming essential especially as the two major party loyalists shrink.
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  1. Xelor's Avatar
    How can one ask "how important are independents?" The y comprise the single largest "major" voting bloc.
  2. Perotista's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Xelor
    How can one ask "how important are independents?" The y comprise the single largest "major" voting bloc.
    That they do. But I think we have entered an era where both major parties tend to ignore them especially when they nominate their candidates. 2016 was a prime example, 54% of independents disliked both major party candidates.

    One in Four Americans Dislike Both Presidential Candidates

    70% of independents disliked Hillary and 57% disliked Trump on election day. Questions 10 and 11.

    https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.ne...bReport_lv.pdf

    Both major parties know independents are more or less forced to choose between the candidates they offer. Ideology has taken the forefront in both parties primaries over nominating a candidate who can win or attract independent voters. Trump and Clinton are prime examples. The Republicans nominating Roy Moore in Alabama and Cory Stewart in Virginia. The Democrats in my state going with Abrams for governor.

    That's their right, but it plainly shows ideology triumphing candidates who stood a greater chance of winning. It shows both parties basically ignoring independents. Independents are the biggest reason Trump is now president.
  3. <alt>doxygen's Avatar
    For POTUS, I think if us indies could get together somehow, we might be able to push a sane candidate through the primaries and then get him/her elected. That would not fix congress, however.

    I would have happily voted for Webb or Kasich, for example. The primary system gives us either someone the corporate parties want or a nut job like Trump. The entropy continues...
  4. Perotista's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by <alt>doxygen
    For POTUS, I think if us indies could get together somehow, we might be able to push a sane candidate through the primaries and then get him/her elected. That would not fix congress, however.

    I would have happily voted for Webb or Kasich, for example. The primary system gives us either someone the corporate parties want or a nut job like Trump. The entropy continues...
    Jim Webb was my first choice, but when he failed to campaign I switched to John Kasich and finally voted for Johnson. A vote against both Trump and Clinton. In most states, independents are cut off from the nomination process in the primaries unless you happen to live in a state that has open primaries and/or caucuses.

    Even in states with open primaries where independents can vote in them, most indies don't bother to vote in the primaries. Most don't interested in elections until the general election and then it is in presidential years.

    Look at 2016, Independents made up 43% of the electorate, but only 31% of those who voted in the presidential general election. Contrast that to Republicans who made up 28% of the total electorate, but 33% of those who voted. Democrats made up 31% of the total electorate and 37% of those who voted.

    Midterms are a lot worst in independents not showing up to vote. They can make up 43% of the electorate but only between 20-25% show up to vote. What that means when Republicans and Democrats make up approximately 60% of the electorate, when it comes time to vote in the midterms, they make up between 75-80% of those who actually vote.

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