The GOPers in Independent Clothing

Why are Republican-leaning independents consistently more conservative than party moderates?

By + More

Another trend struck me in the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll I mentioned earlier that I thought was worth a brief post all on its own. You can call it the mysterious case of the missing Republicans – self-described independents who behave a lot like typical Republicans.

As I wrote earlier, the poll breaks its results out by issue among the four major constituencies of the GOP – evangelicals, observants (which are non-evangelical religious voters), tea party supporters and moderate Republicans – as well Republican-leaning independents, pure independents, Democratic-leaning Democrats and pure Democrats. What leapt out at me was that almost across the board, GOP-leaning independents are more conservative than moderate Republicans.

So, for example, 54 percent of moderate self-described Republicans "strongly" disapprove of President Obama, while 66 percent of self-described independents who lean toward the GOP feel that way; 50 percent of GOP independents are strongly unfavorable toward gay marriage as opposed to 37 percent of moderates; 46 percent of GOP independents are strongly unfavorable toward efforts to prevent global warming, while only 26 percent of moderate Republicans feel that way; and so on. Overall, while 50 percent of self-identified moderate Republicans mostly vote for the GOP, 57 percent of these independents mostly vote for the party.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

According to Erica Seifert, a senior associate at Greenberg Quinlan who worked on the poll, this trend has been consistent since they started breaking out the GOP this way three years ago. "Independents who lean Republican are behaviorally more conservative than those who call themselves moderate Republicans," she says. While I would have assumed it was a function of tea party-types who don't want to be identified as GOPers, Seifert says that their model accounts for them as tea party-supporting Republicans. "We do know that this is real and it's not unique to this survey," she says. Democratic-leaning independents, by contrast, don't tend to be as consistently Democratic in behavior.

She theorizes that this is a result of "this strong, anti-government, anti-establishment streak in the Republican party," she says. "We don't find this with independents who say they lean toward the Democratic party." And the trend creates a problem for the traditional way the media and others both present and consume polls, as it skews the way independents are presented.

  • Read Peter Roff: The Internet Is Not the Wild West
  • Read Susan Milligan: What Congress Can Learn From the British Royal Family
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad