Independents everywhere

In a sign that voters are increasingly disillusioned with party politics, more individuals now identify themselves as independents than have in 50 years. That’s bad news for both parties, but slightly worse news for Democrats, who’re losing affiliated voters at a faster rate than Republicans. ABC’s Amy Bingham reports:

In eight states that will be must-wins in 2012 – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – Democrats lost 5.4 percent of their registered voters while Republicans lost 3.1 percent. The number of independent voters in those states jumped 3.4 percent.

“People are frustrated and the way you tune out in American politics is that is you drop the label of the two parties,” said Steven Jarding, a Harvard public policy professor and Democratic campaign strategist. “The danger for Obama in this is he is not only going to have to capture them but capture more of them because there are less Democratic voters.”

It’s also an opportunity for both parties, as conventional wisdom and history both indicate that elections are won at the margins. Every undecided voter poses to every candidate a challenge, but also a promise: “Convince me your mind and message are sound, motivate me to care enough to take action on that message — and I’ll vote for you.”

In 2008, Obama proved himself adept at winning over independents, but, in 2010, many of those same independents swung for Republicans. Unfortunately for the GOP candidates, who are presently engaged in the primary battle, Obama still has the incumbent’s edge: His campaign has already launched two get-out-the-vote initiatives. Whoever scores the GOP nomination will have to be prepared to mobilize independents particularly rapidly. Wouldn’t hurt to ensure the GOTV infrastructure is in place long before the primary ends.

On that note, Obama has also, if you’ll recall, launched an initiative aimed expressly at millennial voters (ominously named Greater Together). The GOP candidates don’t talk much about any particular attempts to capture millennials — but plenty of my pragmatic generation count themselves as independents. In fact, since 2008, millennials have definitely helped to dwindle the ranks of the Democratic Party. According to a report by the Pew Research Center:

The “Millennial Generation” of young voters played a big role in the resurgence of the Democratic Party in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but their attachment to the Democratic Party weakened markedly over the course of 2009. The Democratic advantage over the Republicans in party affiliation among young voters, including those who “lean” to a party, reached a whopping 62% to 30% margin in 2008. But by the end of 2009 this 32-point margin had shrunk to just 14 points: 54% Democrat, 40% Republican.

Note, though, that those numbers compare the ranks of millennials who self-identify or lean Democrat with the ranks of millennials who self-identify or lean Republican. The number of millennials who actually identify as Republicans has barely gone up since 2008. I’d argue that’s because Republicans rarely directly ask millennials to expressly register as Republicans.

It’d be an enormous encouragement to me to see even just one candidate attempt to solidify support among independent and Republican-leaning millennials. Yes, the millennial generation does have a more favorable view of government than older generations, which means they won’t be as turned off by Obama’s big government message as middle-agers might be — but that’s no reason to assume millennials can’t be or aren’t turned on by a message of economic freedom. You can bet Obama is looking to woo every single voter he can; Republican candidates should, too.