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I have read polls that appear to say that those who don't explicitly back either party are more conservative ideologically than those who do.

A poll by Gallup shows that independents had a 35% approval for Biden overall compared with a roughly 44% approval among non-independents . I have seen this trend show up in other polls as well. If I recall correctly, every presidential and midterm House election generic ballot since 2008 (except in 2020) showed Independents being more Republican than the national average.

Are independents in the United States more likely to take conservative policy stances than those who identify with either major political party overall? Why or why not?

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    Seems logical, given that there are more registered Republicans than Democrats, but the Republicans are still able to contest the presidency. It may also be interpreted as the right-leaning public being less ideologically rigid. Apr 29 at 9:22
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    I've definitely read research showing that left leaning and Democratic individuals are more firm ideologically. One of the most interesting was 538 elasticity scores by district which showed very Democrat leaning seats less elastic than heavy Republican seats even accounting for D seats tending to be more lopsided. And I think you mean more registered Democrats than Republicans. Also note that states without party registration are somewhat more Republican overall than those that do. Link: github.com/fivethirtyeight/data/blob/master/… Apr 29 at 9:28
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    Indeed, I meant that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans. Apr 29 at 9:36
  • I think this could be hard to answer for several reasons. First being that there has been reports of people leaving the Republican party in numbers recently due to Trump and other things which has increased the number of them identifying a "Independent". Second is that Biden isn't exactly known for being very left leaning and you could have "Independents" who think he is to far to the left. Third is that for many the election was a choice between Trump and Not Trump which means it isn't unreasonable for Biden to have a lower support base then normal.
    – Joe W
    Apr 29 at 13:39
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    By "44% approval among non-independents" are you averaging R/D? That seems like an weird choice here. Apr 29 at 15:23

2 Answers 2

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Self-identified independents overwhelmingly respond to opinion polls in a less conservative manner than people who identify as conservatives in polls, and more conservative than those who self-identify as liberals, just as you would expect.

There are some matters upon which self-identified independents differ systemically from both self-identified liberals or Democrats, and self-identified conservatives or Republicans (including "leaners" in both cases). But, these issues are not, for the most part, easily placed on a liberal-conservative political dimension.

Generally speaking, self-identified independents are less engaged in the formal political process than partisans of either the left or the right. They are less likely to be registered to vote, less likely to vote, less likely to give money to political campaigns, less likely to have attended a political rally, and are less likely to be aware of political issues or to correctly answer questions about who their current elected officials are.

Also, at a fine grained issue by issue, official by official, level, independents, while collectively in a moderate position, tend to take positions that do not show a coherent overall ideology, and are heavily influenced by non-policy/partisanship oriented factors (e.g. amount of advertising and the perceived persona of an individual official or candidate).

Historically, there have been times in the U.S. when self-identified independents have been more distrustful of government and of large private businesses and institutions than either conservatives or liberals, and more xenophobic. But, this hasn't been the case since at least President Trump's first Presidential campaign, and probably quite a bit earlier.

I also share the sentiment expressed in the comments that looking at a number like "44% approval among non-independents" is a weird way to parse the numbers when "non-independents" are made up of Republicans who have one very strong view, and Democrats who have more or less the opposite very strong view, and the total value for "non-independents" is a function of the relative number of Republicans and Democrats, and of the relative intensity of approval or disapproval by members of both parties. Trying to lump a group of voters known to have a strong bimodal distribution of views just obscures a meaningful understanding of the data by implicitly treating a group of people that are not a coherent cluster as if they were simply by lumping them in a single category whose make up is a priori rather random.

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  • This really needs some sources. May 5 at 17:58
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To elaborate on another answer, the independents tend to vote on issues which they view as having the strongest sense of urgency.

Even though many, if not most, of them lean one way or another in their views, if they can be motivated to vote, they vote for issues which motivate them the most right now. That largely means that they ignore their long-term views in favor of the most-discussed issues of the day.

This is why the political debate in the US may seem so irrational. Both parties rarely engage each other on issues on which their long-term views are solidified. Instead they appear to be talking past each other.

This is done in order to shine as much light as possible towards issues which are both urgent and which are considered to be their party's strong points by the independents. Since they can't both be generally-believed to be strong on all issues, public debates often end up looking like they are talking about different issues without even hearing what the other sides' arguments are.

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