One of the frustrating things about contemporary political analysis is the frequency with which key terms get used in a very sloppy manner that reflects highly biased or inaccurate assumptions. A perpetual example is the use of “independent” and “moderate” as interchangeable words for unaffiliated voters. Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling explains why this can be so misleading:
One of the media mistakes that drives me the most nuts is when ‘moderates’ are conflated with ‘independents.’ This is most commonly a foible of TV news.
Democrats are in trouble with independents right now. They are not, however, in trouble with moderates.
Independents as a group of voters are somewhat conservative leaning. Our last national poll found that 56% of independents were moderates but that among the rest 33% were conservatives to just 11% liberals. Overall independents were planning to vote Republican for Congress this year by a 40-27 margin. But break that out a little further and while conservative independents are tending toward the GOP by a 68-7 margin moderate independents are tied up at 33. And among all moderates- since moderates continue to identify more as Democrats than Republicans- Democrats lead 46-31 on the generic ballot.
It’s a similar story when it comes to moderates and independents and Barack Obama’s approval rating. Independents are split 48/48 on Obama. But moderates approve of him by a 62/34 margin.
Now there are also inherent problems with conducting political analysis based on self-identification of party or ideology; many “conservative” independents actually favor progressive policy views but call themselves conservatives for some essentially non-political reason; and many “independents” are actually reliable partisans who don’t like to be thought of as such. But if you are going to use such terms, Jensen is right, it’s important to keep them straight. And in terms of current political conditions, people who consider themselves “moderate” don’t seem to think President Obama is some crazy socialist.