SCHOEN: Midterm Elections All Come Down To Independent Voters. Who Do They Prefer?

Posted on October 9, 2022

Elections are largely decided by the political center of the country. Independent voters swung the election for Donald Trump 2016and this group’s subsequent rejection of Trumpism in the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election played a crucial role in helping Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House.

Independent voters will have a particularly big stake in this year’s midterm elections. Both the Democratic and Republican bases are highly enthusiastic on voting, and congressional control depends on a handful of very close races.

While independent voters tilted toward Democrats during the summer — when the party experienced a surge in political momentum due to the reversal of Roe v. Wade and falling gas prices – there has been a legal shift among this group in recent weeks, fueled by the renewed national focus on the weakening economy.

Wall Street Journal vote conducted in mid-August showed Democrats holding a generic vote lead among the general electorate, driven by a 3-point advantage with Independent voters.

However, the combination of rising inflation, rising interest rates and the falling stock market is causing fears of an economic downturn, which has shifted the national business agenda – and in turn the Independent vote – back in the GOP’s favour.

Republicans now have a 1-point lead in the generic vote among likely voters, and are up 5 points with independents, according to a recent Economist/YouGov poll.

Also the latest Monmouth University poll found that independent voters widely preferred Republican control of Congress (47%) over Democratic control (35%).

As inherently nonpartisan voters, independents tend to prioritize quality-of-life issues such as the cost of living over divisive national debates. So a cultural-issues-oriented agenda, which is what Democrats are running on, is not as appealing to these voters as the GOP’s economy-focused platform.

That’s not to say that independent voters are indifferent to issues like abortion rights—in fact, this group supports protecting a woman’s right to choose, such as proof by the increase in support for Democrats after the Dobbs decision among independent women in particular.

That said, Independents are twice as likely to prioritize the economy and the cost of living (61%) over concerns about fundamental rights and the democratic process (29%), according to the Monmouth University survey.

Moreover, the fact that overwhelming majorities of independents rank inflation and rising prices as their biggest concern – but also describe the economy as weak (80%) and disapprove of Joe Biden’s handling of inflation (76%) – does not bode well for the Democrats. ‘ chances.

Trump’s absence from the ballot this year also enabled the right shift among Independent voters. While some Trump-endorsed candidates are doing better than others in toss-up races, Democrats haven’t been able to put Trump on the ballot, so to speak, to the extent the party would have hoped.

In reality, truly persuasive independents are a small group, as most voters in the middle tend to lean toward one party. In such a close election year, however, a 2- or 3-point swing among independents could be the difference between two or three Senate seats — which could determine control of the upper chamber — as well as a handful of important House seats.

Despite the weaknesses of Republican candidates in several close Senate races — meaning their extreme positions or inexperience — the salience of the national GOP issue agenda could carry some of these weak candidates over the finish line.

Indeed, the GOP Senate candidates in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin currently leads with Independent voters, while the Democrat has a comfortable advantage Arizona and is slightly ahead Pennsylvania.

While the political dynamic may well change over the next month, at this point it appears that the move to the GOP among independent voters will sustain itself and could ultimately cost the Democrats control of Congress.

Douglas E. Schoen is a Democratic pollster and strategist. He is the author of “The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, From the Grass Roots to the White House.”

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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