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Pew study: complex Independent voter demographic to challenge traditional party candidates in 2012

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

A new Pew Center for the People and the Press study examines in detail the growing Independent demographic that goes beyond traditional classification, demonstrating an array of complexities that is sure to challenge 2012 candidates.

     "Rather than being moderate, many of these independents hold extremely strong ideological positions on issues such as the role of government, immigration, the environment and social issues. But they combine these views in ways that defy liberal or conservative orthodoxy," the study said

Consequently, politicians within the two-party system will inevitably be required to exercise a bit more strategy if they want to survive as the fittest in the political game. Establishment candidates will increasingly have to reach beyond the confines of their own party in order to be contenders. 

     "For political leaders in both parties, the challenge is not only one of appeasing ideological and moderate 'wings' within their coalitions, but rather holding together remarkably disparate groups, many of whom have strong disagreements with core principles that have defined each party's political character in recent years," Pew said.

In one concrete indication of the growing Independent voter demographic, this year's Pew study of political typologies (the various political groups from right to left and the ideologies that define them) had to add another group to the two Independent groups that Pew has included in past studies.

The new group, known as Post-Moderns, was added this year to join the other two existing groups that are predominantly Independent in political ideology (Disaffecteds and Libertarians). Out of the three, Post-Moderns are the youngest of all with 67% of them being under the age of 50.

Despite being socially liberal on issues like immigration and the environment, they have tended to lean pro-business and more conservative on issues related to the government social safety net. Well-educated and relatively well-off financially, 41% of them have attained at least a college education or higher. In a number that will seemingly rise, Post-Moderns currently comprise 14% of voters.

In a struggling economy, Disaffecteds are certainly going to be another group noted in the study whom candidates will need to reach. This particular group is the most financially stressed and hardest hit by the recession. As such, they are skeptical of government and of business. They think that government should do more, but don't really think it can deliver in effectively meeting this goal. Even though they typically support the Republican idea of shrinking government, at least in principle, they still believe in some sort of government safety net. 

With the economy's predicament, Libertarians will be the third group of independents that candidates will need to win over. Furthermore, along with being conservative on economic issues as a core platform, Pew classifies this group as secular on social issues. A whopping 71% of them are college educated, the study found. For them, the deficit is a priority, and they believe steep cuts are needed to achieve this objective. Both Disaffecteds and Libertarians lean Republican.

As the 2012 campaign begins, those classified as Independents are a pretty significant chunk of the electorate. If candidates are expecting to cruise to victory, they certainly have their work cut out for them.

     "The political typology study underscores the challenges facing both political parties heading into the 2012 election cycle. In 2008, Obama pulled together a broad coalition of Democratically-oriented groups and built up a lot of enthusiasm across all those groups," said Michael Dimock, associate director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

While President Obama will have to work to regain that enthusiasm-driven momentum, Republicans face a similar challenge.

     " In 2010, Republicans won a majority in the House based on a broad coalition of groups that were deeply frustrated with government, but those groups don't all share the same beliefs about how those problems should be addressed. And building and maintaining the enthusiasm they saw in 2010 is a challenge for Republicans as well."

What's your political typology as an Independent voter according to Pew? Find out here.

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