In the aftermath of the departures of both U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio from the Republican presidential primary contest, the public’s attention is now beginning to shift toward a general election race between real estate mogul Donald Trump and the likely Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This “pivot” in the coverage of the 2016 presidential election is likely to involve a much greater interest in the political inclinations of independents, a sizable group of voters that, in most states, have not even had the chance to vote on any of the candidates yet.
In February, it was argued in an NPR story that “the biggest group of voters politicians will have to woo this November are the ones who often don’t get a say in which candidates make it to the general election ballot.”
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of independent voters, regardless of the various political ideologies present within that bloc, when it comes to general election politics in the United States. Last year, J.T. Young, writing for Forbes, argued that “winning a presidential election means winning [i]ndependent voters,” and he is still right today.
However, independents do not choose their preferred candidates for the presidency in the middle of a vacuum; like voters who are affiliated with the two major political parties, independents seem to weigh their options in light of their views about other political issues, such as their approval or disapproval of the sitting president and Congress.
Much has been written about how many independents would probably reject outright the candidacy of Donald Trump in a general election on the basis of many controversial statements that the real estate mogul has made in the past.
However, less has been written about what recent polls and surveys say about the ambivalence with which many independents view the Obama administration, and how this ambivalence, perhaps even disapproval, might endanger the candidacy of the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Generally speaking, political independents are likely to believe that the United States is headed “on the wrong track.” An Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP poll taken in late April showed that 60% of independents, a strong majority, believe the country is “headed in the wrong direction.”
An Economist/YouGov survey taken at the same time indicated similar trends, with 68% of independents answering that they believed that America was on the wrong track. Meanwhile, 88% of Republican respondents answered similarly, and only 17% of respondents who identified as Democrats agreed.
61% of independents view Hillary Clinton somewhat or very unfavorably, while 60% of independents said the same about Donald Trump.IBD/TIPP poll
Thus, when it comes to their view of the direction in which the United States is headed, independents appear to be more likely to think along the same lines as Republicans, rather than Democrats.
Additionally, the results of the Economist/YouGov poll also indicated that simply labelling political independents in the United States as “moderates” is probably unhelpful. While 68% of those identifying as independents are concerned about the country’s direction, 58% of those identifying as moderates (a difference of ten percentage points) agreed.
Polls also indicate that political independents are far more likely to have a pessimistic view of the Obama administration than Democrats in the United States do and tend to view Congress less favorably than survey respondents from both parties. With regard to the latter, the Economist/YouGov poll mentioned earlier showed that 61% of independents disapprove of the job the United States Congress is doing, while 56% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans believe the same.
When it comes to their views about the Obama administration, independents are far more likely to be pessimistic than Democrats are, even though they are also far less likely than Republican survey respondents to disapprove of the president.
The aforementioned IBD/TIPP poll showed that 41% of independents disapprove of the Obama administration; however, the same independents surveyed are also not very likely to give the president “good” or “excellent” marks when it comes to his handling of the economy (only 39%) or ISIS in Iraq and Syria (only 29%).
Other polls show that independents may in fact hold the Obama administration in even lower esteem. A Reuters/Ipsos survey taken in late April indicated that 58% of independents disapprove of the president’s job performance, while only 18% of Democrats believe the same thing.
The Republican and Democratic primaries have not improved the favorability ratings of either of the likely nominees among independents. According to the IBD/TIPP poll from late April, 61% of independents view Hillary Clinton somewhat or very unfavorably, while 60% of independents said the same about Donald Trump.
In light of the fact that the sitting Democratic president is not an incredibly popular figure among independents, the likely Democratic nominee should be even more concerned about the seemingly equal lack of popularity between herself and Donald Trump.
On May 3, Rebecca Ballhaus of the Wall Street Journal wrote that “the nosedive Mrs. Clinton’s rating has taken among independents suggests she has a lot of work to do to win those voters over in a general election.” Even though the same survey showed Clinton beating Trump among independent voters by a margin of 43% to 39%, that margin is far thinner than the seven percentage points by which Clinton beat Trump among overall poll respondents.
As the two major parties’ primaries begin to wind down and as the general election season begins, it is clear that independents are far more unsatisfied than usual with the two candidates that are likely to be nominated by the Republicans and the Democrats. For Hillary Clinton, this dissatisfaction could prove to be even more damaging, given that independents are less-than-thrilled about the work of the Obama administration.
In summary, it seems as if political independents in America have been confronted with two candidates that they would have never nominated, were they given the chance, in the first place.