Polarized Express

A Star Tribune poll released this week shows that almost four in ten Minnesotans are identifying themselves as political Independents, making them the dominant political force in the state. If traditional party activist were marketers, they would look at this target audience trend and choose candidates who “sell” with that key audience of swing voters. Centrists not extremists. Uniting personalities not polarizing personalities.

But the kinds of folks who hold sway on major party nominating processes are far from marketers. They are groupies, ideological purists, altruists, special interests advocates, and/or wannabe kingmakers. As a result, they often choose candidates that are the least marketable come general election time, rather than the most marketable.

That seems to be what’s happening on the left this year. DFL activists are rallying around the two most polarizing candidates in top-of-the-ticket races. The disapproval ratings for front-runners Hillary Clinton (48% unfavorable v. 48% favorable) and Al Franken (34% unfavorable v. 27 favorable) are tops in their respective fields.

Marketers would look at the market research and view Franken and Clinton as poor “products” for the times. But party activists view themselves and their like-minded friends as the target audience, not the growing ranks of Independent voters who will decide general election outcomes this year.

– Loveland

9 thoughts on “Polarized Express

  1. First of all, the story you link to (from the AP) says people classified themselves as “independents” — small I. Assuming the reporter isn’t an idiot (safe assumption?), there’s an intentional distinction between “being independent” and “being an Independent.” There’s an Independent Party, which espouses some beliefs, and then there are people who say they’re independent because they don’t give a shit or because they are fed up with the other folks’ BS.

    So let’s continue to assume people covering this issue aren’t making any confusing mistakes and know the difference between I- and i-ndependents. I wouldn’t dare make that same assumption for the folks being surveyed. Just imagine the phone survey: “Are you a Republican, a Democrat, or an I/i-ndependent?”

    Response: “Republicans are assholes, Democrats are idiots…I’m I/i-ndependent!” Or something to that effect. This would have to be one damn well-worded, carefully executed survey to convince me of little or no fudgery due to that confusion.

    Second, independent-party-ness doesn’t prevent extremism (you mention about centrism v. extremism). A person who considers himself or herself independent could just as likely be a pure centrist or an extremist with a set of “random” values that “conflict” with the way a party-loyal Dem or Rep is “supposed to think.” For example, way the hell against abortion, and all for complete gun control, and against all tax increases, and infatuated with government-run single-payer health insurance. Goofy example but just trying to explain my rambling point.

    And more to your point about the political impact of these independent people: It’s quite sad that the extent of that impact is more likely to be “which party (D or R) will ‘win us over’?” rather than “how can we really change what’s going on and elect somebody interesting and useful?”

  2. jloveland says:

    My assumption is most of those folks are little “i’s.” None-of-the-above. They might vote for a Big I if candidate it was one of those rare years where the Independence Party had a compelling nominee, but if that doesn’t happen, and it usually doesn’t, they will go shopping for the lesser of two evils.

  3. jloveland says:

    Jimbo, I would have been more accurate if I had said “disproportionately” moderate. It’s true that self-identified independents aren’t a moderate monolith.

    But I won’t concede my larger point – appealing to independents with a “conservative” or “liberal” candidate is a much worse marketing strategy than appealing to them with a moderate candidate. A Pew study from earlier this year found that relatively few moderates are likely to choose someone they considered conservative (12%) or liberal (16%). By more than a 3-to-1 margin, the most popular pick for independents would be someone they consider “moderate” (45%). [And then there is the ever-popular category for independents – “other/depends/don’t know” (27%)].


  4. I think Jimbo accomplished my goal (or at least most of it) with about 18,294 less words.

    And Loveland: Your restated larger point makes sense, too. I think part of the value of a moderate candidate — a big part of the reason moderates “speak to” those unaffiliated voters — is because they don’t fall into the bullshit cycle as easily. They’re less prone to toe the party line, and that’s a refreshing thing that’ll earn a few votes on it’s own.

  5. jloveland says:

    People identify as independents either because they a) seek some mix of liberal, moderate and conservative ideas or b) can’t make up their mind between liberal, moderate and conservative ideas. For the latter group, “indifferent” or “indecisive” is perhaps a more apt descriptor than the euphemism “independent.”

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