In it, but not of it. TPM DC
The numbers are stark.
"Fully 64% of independents who plan to vote for the Republican in their district are giving a lot of thought to the election," Pew reports. "Compared with just 40% of independents who plan to vote for a Democrat."
Pew's Michael Dimock, a co-author of the report, told me that the numbers are pretty much unheard of.
"Independents are at least as engaged as they've ever been and, in some cases, more engaged then they've ever been," he said. "The fact that they're giving a lot of thought to an election that's still two months away is very strange."
These excited voters, Dimock said, are ready to pull the lever for the GOP, thanks to frustration over the economy, the size of government and "government effectiveness." That represents a shift to the right among independent voters.
"It's not a sea change, but independents on many of these things used to be closer to the Democrats," he said. "Now they've shifted to the center or toward the right."
So what's responsible for the shift? Dimock says independents are over the Democrats and their time in power. "The bigger factor is it's a referendum on performance," Dimock said. "Most [independents] voted for Obama and now, two years later, they feel things aren't any better."
Dimock said the tea party movement is partially responsible for turning independents into IINOs this year. "You have to give the tea party movement some credit," he said. Dimock also said the frustrated conservatives who make up the movement have "polarized" the independent vote that might have fractured in years past.
"I always compare it to '92," Dimock said. Back then, he said, with the economy in shambles, the most frustrated of the independents turned to Ross Perot, who offered them an outlet for their anger at the traditional parties. This year the tea party has grabbed that mantle, and steered those voters toward the GOP.
But the seeds for the destruction of the Republican Party's newfound friendship with independent voters may have already been sown. For though the independents are with the GOP when it comes to the fiscal vision of tiny government, no taxes and -- somehow -- a balanced budget at the same time, independents are not ready to embrace the party's views on social issues. The GOP has been locked in a kind of death-struggle with its values voting past this year, with some Republican leaders warning against making a big deal of the party's conservative take on gay rights, abortion and other matters while others have sworn a blood oath to the GOP's moral past.
Social issues are playing a prominent role in the House GOP leadership's new "Pledge To America," a fact that could be a long-term problem for Republicans trying to keep independents close.
"The country is ebbing in a liberal direction on those issues," Dimock said of the social stuff. "Independents are moving right along with that movement."