Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mike Larsen Headshot

WTF Is an Independent Voter?

Posted: Updated:

Politicians, pundits and reporters often talk about the need to appeal to independent voters as if people who have the inability to articulate a clear position are capable of forming an organized group.

Voters who don't identify with either party don't have a unified platform or common point of view. So-called "independents" are registered that way for myriad reasons that have nothing to do with political philosophy.

IDEOLOGICAL BREAKDOWN OF "INDEPENDENT" VOTERS

Campaigns are misguided to think they can reach these disparate types by adopting some middle of the road, wishy-washy, one-size-fits-all position. Instead, the groups need to be marketed to in different ways:

GROUP 1 -- BANDWAGON VOTERS (32%): Don't understand politics but like voting for the
winner.

These geniuses have voted for every president since time began. They're the one group that is actually swayed by polls. They routinely vote against their own self-interest, such as the bigots who voted for Obama, the unemployed who back the Tea Party and the literate who chose Bush over Kerry. Outside of politics, these are America's Snuggie purchasers, tattooed hipsters and "fans" who put Lakers flags on their cars in time for the playoffs. They are followers and ass-kissers who, if they ever had an original thought, would need a Prozac prescription to tamp it down. How to reach them: Convince them you're going to win.

GROUP 2 -- BUM THROWERS (27%): Contrarians who vote against whoever's
in power.

What is Christmas dinner without an uncle showing his intelligence by declaring that all incumbents should be tossed out on their asses? Members of this group are blessed with the divine gift of making those with well-reasoned points of view feel like naive clods. Their sneering interrogatory, "Can't you see that Democrats and Republicans are all the same?" leaves us feeling like the playground narc justifying why we finked on the cool kids. Never mind that theirs is a fatally flawed proposition that acknowledges whomever they elect, no matter how virtuous, is instantly transformed into a bum the moment he or she takes office. How to reach them: Convince them the other guy is the incumbent.

GROUP 3 -- LESSER EVIL LOVERS (17%): Believe that everyone on the ballot is fatally
flawed, so they vote for the least qualified.

Similar to group 2 but caring less about incumbency, these are those magical gnomes known as "swing voters" who decide close elections based solely on the viciousness of a candidate's attack ads. These folks couldn't articulate the difference between Sarah Palin and Nancy Pelosi unless a TV commercial told them one of them boils kittens. It is this tiny slice of the electorate for which the lion's share of campaign cash is directed. How to reach them: Paint your opponent as a God-hating, terrorist-loving philandering tax cheat with ugly kids.

GROUP 4 -- DUMMIES (13%): Confused by the voter registration form and
intended to pick Democrat or Republican.

We run into these voters every primary election when they're in front of us in line at the polling place and can't understand why they don't get to vote for whichever party they think they belong to. Granted, voter registration forms are pretty complicated -- besides your name and address, you're required to check a box. How to reach them: Don't bother. Assuming they even make it into the polling booth and don't try to vote in a construction site port-a-potty, they're just going to vote based on party identification anyway.

GROUP 5 -- SYSTEM BEATERS (6%): Think that not picking a party makes them less
likely to be called for jury duty.

I personally know at least a dozen people in this group. They are convinced that the reason I get called for jury duty is because I chose a party on my voter registration. These folks like referring to themselves as "street smart, not book smart" and have no problem wasting hours a day trying to beat the system. How to reach them: Pay them to vote.

GROUP 6 -- COLLECTORS (3%): Don't care who gets elected, just in it for the
"I voted" sticker.

These guys might be on to something. There are bars in some cities that give you a free drink for wearing an "I voted" sticker and I'm not the first guy who's noticed that women tend to talk to you when you're sporting one of those puppies. Bit of advice, though: the stickers only work on election day, so strike while the iron's hot. How to reach them: Convince them that the real loose women support your candidate. Works best when a Kennedy is on the ballot.

GROUP 7 -- TRULY INDEPENDENT (2%): Actually oppose the two party system and are working to change it.
God bless the free thinkers, poets and coffee house barristas. Were there more of them, I would have high hopes for the future of democracy for I, too, believe that the two-party system is a sham. Unfortunately, I'm more concerned with selfish needs such as making sure the schools stay open long enough for my four-year-old to get an education. How to reach them: Does it matter? These are smart, incredibly informed people so, by definition, they're statistically insignificant.

Register To Vote