David Frum

08.22.12

The Myth of the Independent Voter

National Public Radio does a valuable service by doing yet more reporting to show that so-called "independent voters" are not really independent at all.

This story focuses on a new test by Brian Noesk of the University of Virginia which can evaluate the partisan leanings of subjects who take it. They are discovering that self-declared independents often have strong partisan leanings:

Nosek and Hawkins proved the test was measuring people's real attitudes by asking the volunteers to evaluate different policies. Some were labeled Democratic ideas. Others were labeled Republican. Then Nosek secretly switched the labels. The idea that used to be called Democratic was now labeled Republican, and the idea that used to be Republican was now labeled Democratic.

"What we found was that independents who were implicitly Democratic tended to favor the plan proposed by Democrats," Nosek said. "And independents who were implicitly Republican tended to favor the plan proposed by Republicans. And it didn't matter which plan was which."

When a plan was labeled Democratic, in other words, independents who were implicitly Democratic supported it — and they opposed it when the label was changed to Republican. Party labels, not ideas, determined which proposals these voters supported. That's the definition of partisanship — where loyalty to the team comes first; the ideas come second.