Democrat and Republican consultants and media mouths have settled on a few generalizations to define the independent voter: “low information,” “moderate,” or “undecided.” But the generalized terms forget the more personal reality of an independent voter. An independent is, by definition, not bound by the traditional political indicators that have painted our political maps red and blue.
These same political consultants have stopped running campaigns of persuasion, in favor of a divide and conquer strategy: run negative ads and push out the people who don’t see the difference in one evil over another. Once the non-partisans have been disenfranchised, the side that pushes out more of its base on Election Day wins. And third parties and independent candidates are largely irrelevant in an electoral system designed and crafted by a team of two.
Now, Republican consultants and pollsters have been called to the thrown for being so wrong this election. But they’ve been wrong for a lot longer than that. The Karl Rove’s of the world are brilliant short-term strategists; they understand the emotion and human reaction to carefully crafted rhetoric; they see voters as statistics; they measure success by the number of seats they win. The Republican Party, its consultants, and its pollsters, seek ideological uniformity within a party that has traditionally prided itself on its big-tent.
As a result, the Republicans end up with a bunch of “I agree with you” candidates who refuse to take a stand in opposition the ideological purists in the tent. As a consequence, women, gays, minorities, and the young voters who have grown up in a more interconnected and socially accepting world have walked out of the tent. A large number of these voters voted for Obama, or nobody at all. But in any case, they are not Democrats. They are independent voters.
These are the independents that the politicians and moving mouths say are “really Republicans,” in part because of their voting history and in part because of their traditional political tendencies. In the short-term, the “ignore them and they’ll end up with us anyway” strategy has worked for the Republicans. But not anymore.
There is a civil war in the Republican Party more complex than polling data alone can show. You can’t determine just how many voters finally had enough when John Huntsman had any presidential hopes erased by conceding that he believed in scientific evidence. You can’t measure the number of independent-minded Republicans that supported Ron Paul, in all his earnest honesty, only to see him marginalized at every turn like an unwanted stepchild by the party-brokers. You can’t deny that his “tea party” son and Senator Rand Paul has little in common with the “tea party” Congresswoman Michelle Bachman. There is no saying how many votes Romney lost, not because Obama met with Governor Christy after the storm devastated his State, but because the Republicans failed to give the president and their own credit when it was the right thing to do.
And you can’t put a number on the number of voters who have heard one too many attacks on the other party, made one too many campaign promises that they don’t really mean, and too few new ideas from a party that used to pride itself on its intellectualism.
These are not Democratic voters. And they aren’t Republican voters anymore. They are independent-minded voters. They don’t believe the Republican is always right and the Democrat is always wrong. Often, they don’t think either one is right. And even more often, they just want authenticity; someone who is honest in their beliefs, humble enough to admit when they are wrong, and mature enough to run a campaign of persuasion. In short, they are looking for the characteristics of true leaders
The Republican Party brand is tarnished. It’s like a company that has produced one too many widgets that just don’t work like advertised. The only difference is, there are plenty of good Republicans within the Republican Party. And the Republican Party will win back independents, repair its brand, and be stronger for it, when the pollsters and consultants that got us where we are today get out of the way and let them lead.