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Independents sour on Romney

by Damon Eris, published

Though Independents remain skeptical of the Obama administration's handling of economic issues, as Christopher Guzman reported here at IVN last week, President Obama's standing among Independents has clearly begun to benefit by comparison with the narrowing field of candidates in the Republican primary.  As the Republican candidates continue to spar for the support of the party's base, they have begun to turn off Independents, who are more likely to identify themselves as moderate than as conservative or liberal.

The swing is especially apparent in the case of Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts was long considered to be a strong Republican nominee if only because of his moderate credentials.

Romney was once proud of the moderate mantle. While running for governor of the Bay State in 2002, he explained to one interviewer: “I think people recognize that I'm not a partisan Republican, that I'm someone who is moderate and that my views are progressive.” Yet, earlier this month, at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, he declared that he was rather “a severely conservative Republican governor.” It is difficult to construe such apparent wavering as anything but the most base form of political pandering, which is all too familiar in US politics.

It is thus no surprise that Romney's status among Independent voters is on the decline. According to the Pew Research Center, “Over the course of the campaign, Romney's image among independent voters has suffered substantially.” Last November, Independents favored Romney over President Obama 53% to 41%. That differential held through the beginning of this year, when 50% of Independents stated they would prefer to see Romney elected in 2012. This month, however, the situation has effectively reversed, with Independents favoring Obama over Romney 51% to 42%.

The reasons for the reversal are clearly apparent in the results of Pew's surveys over the course of the last four months. In November, 58% of Independents said they thought Governor Romney was well-qualified to be president, and 53% found him to be honest and trustworthy. As of this month, just 48% of Independents told Pew that Romney was well-qualified, only 41% said they thought he was honest and trustworthy, and 53% stated that he does not take consistent positions on the issues. Romney's attempt to paint himself as both a moderate progressive and a severe conservative have clearly alienated both moderates and conservatives among the electorate, and it has likely done the same among progressives, assuming there are any who were thinking of supporting him.  However, according to Pew, Romney's slide among Independents has not led to any significant increase in support for one of his GOP rivals.

Though it's been a mild winter, many Independents are likely feeling that they've been left out in the cold for this year's GOP primary contest. As commentator John Avlon recently wrote:

“Centrist Republicans and swing voters are not part of the conversation in the GOP primaries -- in fact, they are being actively campaigned against instead of courted. The greatest insult that can be hurled in this far-right field is that a candidate ever worked with Democrats in the past. The word "moderate" itself has become an insult.”

It would appear that the party system no longer serves the interests of the American people. It may be up to moderates to lead the revolt.

Pew's most recent survey was conducted from February 8-12, 2012. Its sample of 1,501 adults included 355 Independent voters. The margin of error for the Independent subset was +/- 6.5 points.