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Survey sheds light on California's progressive Independents

by Damon Eris, published

It is a virtual axiom of contemporary political strategy, that Independent voters cast the decisive ballots in closely contested elections. Unlike their Democratic and Republican counterparts, Independent voters can be fairly unpredictable and may remain undecided as to how they will cast their ballots up to election day itself. It is therefore all the more remarkable that there are so few polls and surveys which focus solely on Independent voters, especially given the fact that Independents outnumber Democrats and Republicans alike nationwide.

However, a little noticed survey commissioned by the California League of Conservation Voters Election Fund, released in mid-December, may prove to be a sign of better things to come. The poll's sample of 600 likely Decline-to-State (DTS) voters in California provides us with a rare glimpse into public opinion among Independents, who constitute an increasingly significant percentage of the state's electorate.

Naturally, the survey's questionnaire placed a strong emphasis on environmental issues, but it also included queries on a number of other social and political concerns. The corresponding report states that California's Independents are a strongly progressive-leaning group.

“The bottom line is that the survey results are very encouraging for progressive, pro-environment candidates running for office and provide little solace for conservative candidates looking to break a losing streak,” states the Executive Summary.

The survey found that 65% of Decline-to-State voters consider themselves to be conservationists, including 32% who said they strongly believe in conservationism. On the issue of climate change, 63% of Independents agreed that “climate change is occurring and is a major problem that needs to be addressed,” while 31% agreed with the position of climate change skeptics. An even larger majority of 69% expressed support for environmental regulations, agreeing that they provide important social benefits. Just 21% stated that such regulations “do more harm than good,” “hurt businesses and lead to job losses.”

The poll also inquired as to DTS voters' positions on this year's presidential contest, abortion, gay marriage, and Occupy Wall Street. Independents would favor President Barack Obama over potential Republican rival Mitt Romney by a 19% margin. 49% said they would vote for the president, while 30% stated they would support Romney. However, a significant portion, 21%, said they were undecided.

On the issue of abortion, the survey found that Decline-to-State voters are decidedly pro-choice. 63% said abortion should be legal in all (27%) or most cases (37%), while 27% said it should be illegal in all (10%) or most cases (17%). A significant majority of those polled, 60%, also expressed support for gay marriage, with a 44% plurality who say they strongly support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. Just 30% said they oppose gay marriage. Finally, a majority of Independents in the survey said they agree with the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Though Independents constitute a smaller percentage of the electorate in California than in many other states across the Union, their numbers are steadily growing. In 1992, Democrats and Republicans accounted for 86% of the state's registered voters. By last year, that number fell to 74%. Fully 20% of voters in California are now registered as Decline-to-State.

The telephone survey of 600 likely Decline-to-State voters was conducted by Tulchin Research from October 27 to November 2 last year. It's margin of error was +/- 4.0 percentage points.  Unfortunately, the published report did not include detailed demographic data relating to its sample.