Romney maintaining big lead among independent voters


Independent voters are the key to this presidential election. There is little doubt about that. Mitt Romney is already doing well in swing states with these crucial voting bloc, and, as Chris Cillizza recently explained at the Washington Post, may ride them to victory over President Barack Obama:

In the last three releases of the tracking poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, Obama has trailed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among independent voters by between 16 and 20 percentage points.

That’s a striking reversal from 2008, when Obama won independent voters, who made up 29 percent of the electorate, by eight points over Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
So, what gives? Why is Obama — at least according to the Post-ABC data — having so much trouble with independents?

The answer lies in the fact that most independents are not, well, independent. Of all the likely voters who called themselves independents in nine days of the Post-ABC tracking poll, fully three-quarters (75 percent) — said they tend to lean toward one party or the other. (The remainder are known as “pure” independents.)

And it’s among those shadow partisans that Obama is struggling. Ninety-two percent of Republican-leaning independents said they plan to support Romney, while 84 percent of Democratic-leaning independents are backing Obama.

It’s not just in the head-to-head matchup that the difference between GOP-leaning and Democratic-leaning independents is visible. Among all registered voters, 69 percent of Republican-leaning independents say they are following the election closely while just 49 percent of Democratic-leaning independents say the same. (Just more than four in 10 — 41 percent — of pure independents say they are closely following the election.)

That gap between partisan-leaning independents was just nine points in September but has now grown to a 20-point edge this month as the election draws near.

By way of comparison, in Post-ABC polling conducted in October 2008, 62 percent of Democratic-leaning independents said they were closely following the election while 60 percent of Republican-leaning said the same.

Among independents who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote, 87 percent of Republican-leaning independents express that sentiment, compared with 81 percent of Democratic-leaning independents.

What all those numbers mean is that among independent voters — who tend to be less likely to turn out, even in a presidential election, than partisans — Romney has a clear edge.

It’s difficult to see Romney losing with such an edge over independents. But even as he carries this lead among independents — not just in national polls, but also in many state polls — Romney is struggling to maintain his advantage in states like Colorado and Virginia, as well as break through President Obama’s lead in Ohio. Recent polls show that Romney’s lead Florida may be on shaky ground.

Could it be that state polls are simply lagging behind national trends? Perhaps. However, Romney’s advantage in national polls has been apparent for days, if not a couple of weeks, now. One would think it would have trickled down into swing state polls at this point, or perhaps Romney just had that much ground to makeup.

But with exactly a week left to go until election day, Romney’s campaign better hope he starts peaking at the right moment, because time is quickly running out.

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