Independent, crossover voters could impact election

Posted Oct. 17, 2012

School of Communication
University of Miami

At this point in the 2012 presidential race, mid October, most voters usually know which candidate will have their votes. And with less than a month left until Election Day, that’s probably a good thing.

However, it’ll be hard to guess the result of this year’s election considering the number of undecided voters.

Not only will Independent voters make an impact, but crossover voters will also influence this election. Crossover voting occurs when a voter who is registered as a member of one political party votes for the opposing party’s candidate.

As of late September, The Huffington Post found that 37.7 percent of voters identify themselves as Independent, 32.5 percent as Democrat and 23.2 percent as Republican. 

These swing votes could make a big difference since President Barack Obama’s and former Gov. Mitt Romney’s favorability have varied all year. Although Romney’s unfavorability has increased, so has his favorability. Meanwhile, Obama’s popularity has remained somewhat stagnant since January 2012.

Because these numbers are so close, Independent and crossover voters could make a big impact on Election Day. But which side will the majority of these influential voters take?

Of course, one of the main issues on voters’ minds is the economy. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in September 2012, 87 percent of registered voters say the economy will be “very important” to their votes; jobs is a close second, coming in at 83 percent.

And it doesn’t seem like Obama is faring well with potential voters when it comes to the economy. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in September 2012, Romney fares better with voters in regards to his handle on the economy as well as how he could impact the future of the U.S. economy.

In September 2012, 49 percent of Americans thought Romney had a better handle of the economy while 45 percent preferred Obama. It is also important to note that Romney has rated better on this issue since July; 51 percent preferred his handle on the economy in July and 52 percent in August, defeating Obama both times by at least 9 percentage points.

Moreover, Obama is facing more than 50 percent disapproval for several issues, including the federal budget deficit, the creation of jobs, the economy and immigration.

If voters are more concerned with economic issues than social issues, then it seems like Romney could be the winner of this race. But of course, several other factors weigh in when voters make their decisions.

For one, Obama has the advantage of incumbency. Many voters have created a bond with Obama during the past four years, which will deter some voters from supporting Romney.

“Incumbents always have an edge,” said Allison Goodman, 21, who supports Obama. “It’s not enough of an edge if his debate performance affected his ratings so much though.”

Demi Rafuls, 21, is also rooting for Obama, despite the fact that she is a registered Republican.

“I think that his plan overall is better than Romney’s,” she said. “I’m definitely in favor of his social stances. However, while I’m more of a fiscal conservative, I think his focus on the middle class is what will drive the country out of the downward bend we’ve been on. I think that he’s not done in the White House … I think he’s earned another term.”

Moreover, social issues like abortion and gay marriage also rank high in importance for voters – according to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in February 2012, 38 percent of U.S. registered voters consider the candidates’ positions on these issues to be “extremely important” or “very important” when considering who they will vote for on Election Day.

And when it comes to these issues, Romney doesn’t rate as well as Obama. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in late September of 2012, 59 percent of Americans think Obama would handle social issues better than Romney, who received 33 percent of the poll votes.

However, it should be taken into account that these polls were conducted before the debates. Although the debates may not always be a game-changer, a Gallup poll conducted in late September of 2012 found that 15 percent of voters said that what Romney and/or Obama say or do during the debates could change their votes.

But maybe the Independent and crossover votes won’t have as much of an impact as the numbers imply. Dr. Joseph Uscinski, who is a professor in UM’s Department of Political Science, doesn’t think these voters will influence the outcome on Election Day.

“Most people are firmly in one party or the other,” he said. “That is where the action is. Besides, most people who claim to be Independent are lying; they are just closet partisans.”

Uscinski also said that crossover voting in a president election is “rare,” and that although Democrats may be unhappy with Obama’s handle on the economy, they’re more likely to “stay home” than vote for Romney.

Dr. Casey Klofstad, who is also a UM political science professor, thinks crossover voting is uncommon in presidential elections.

“Where you live and what’s going on in that point in time plays a role in this,” he said. “But, for the presidential election, it’s rare for voters to support a political candidate who doesn’t represent the political party they’re registered with.”

But in the end, polls should only be considered as snapshots of opinions in a certain moment. Realistically, they cannot be used to predict an outcome for an election that is still four weeks away. 

“Polls are only as accurate as the individuals being polled are,” Klofstad said. “The reliability of polls depends on the individuals being polled and the sampling technique used. In the end, it always comes down to the turnout for the election, so really nothing is definite until November.”

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