Mitt Romney may be leading among independents, but CNN's John Avlon notes that he's not leading among moderates -- far from it. As Avlon explains, they're not the same thing anymore:
... in past elections independents and centrist voters have been largely synonymous -- overlapping cohorts, reflecting the belief of many independents that the two parties are too polarized and disproportionately dominated by their respective special interests. But what I think we're seeing this year is the extended impact of the tea party -- a growth in the number of independent conservatives that has moved the overall independent voting block slightly to the right. In turn, centrist voters are more likely to vote for Obama precisely because of the polarizing impact of the tea party and the intransigence of many conservative congressmen when it came to working in a good faith spirit of principled compromise with the Obama administration.Avlon points out that in both the CNN and Pew polls, Obama is leading moderates by a 21-point margin, even though Romney has a small lead among independents in each poll.
Are you listening, centrism-obsessed pundits? Voters in the middle don't look at the two parties and see "extremists on both sides." Self-described moderates overwhelmingly favor Obama And "independents" are less moderate than they used to be.
Josh Marshall has discussed the change in the meaning of "independent" a number of times:
Look at this chart of US party identification going back over the period of the Obama presidency and through 2008....
... A few things jump right out. The big thing is that independent identification skyrocketed and GOP identification plummeted in the Fall of 2010 -- notably, this started just in advance of the 2010 midterm election.I think that's exactly right -- these people say they're independents, but they'll never vote for a Democrat. I think this also helps explain why polls with a lot more Democratic than Republican respondents can be quite accurate -- it's hip on the Fox News/talk radio right to say your independent because both parties are too damn liberal.
Now, unless you assume that the US has moved strongly to the left since 2010, it seems pretty clear that what happened was an exodus from the GOP to the right. In other words, a lot of people left the Republican party, in identification terms. But they didn't become Democrats. And it doesn't seem (at least from the politics of the last two years) like they became more moderate of 'centrist' in ideological terms. They simply reidentified themselves as independents. One more thing I'd add and this is part is just my supposition. But I think in a lot of cases they actually re-identified because the GOP wasn't right-wing enough, call it a Tea Party exodus from the GOP.
That last part is my supposition. But what does not seem in doubt is that a lot of people who had called themselves Republicans started calling themselves independents, notwithstanding the fact that there's little evidence they became less conservative.
So Tom Friedman, Frank Bruni, and other cravers of centrist comity: please look at polling about moderates before you decide that both parties are alienating the middle. It's not true.