The reason for the GOP tilt of independents? Roberts thinks it has much to do with President Obama’s faltering numbers among that group. In the third quarter of this year — July to September — 50 percent of independents surveyed by NBC-WSJ had a negative image of Obama, while 32 percent had a positive image. Six in 10 disapproved of the job he was doing overall; in particular, 63 percent disapproved of his handling of the economy. Throw in the fact that nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of independents surveyed in the third quarter of 2013 think the country is on the wrong track and it becomes clear why independents are aligning with Republicans.

Are these just Republicans who are disgusted with the state of the party and are temporarily identifying themselves as independents? (Remember that Mitt Romney actually won independents by five points over Obama in 2012 but still lost the election convincingly.) No, said Roberts, who analyzed the demographics among independents across 2010, 2012 and 2013 and found remarkable similarities in the group’s makeup. In 2010, a great year for Republicans, 58 percent of independents were men. Two years later, a good year for Democrats, 55 percent of independents were men. In 2013, 56 percent of them are men. The story is the same across age, ideology and geographic region. Those identifying as independents in 2010 and 2012 look a lot like people who call themselves independents today.