For much of 2011, when pundits claimed President Obama’s re-election prospects were poor, one area in particular was frequently cited: Obama was struggling with independents, with whom he’d done quite well in 2008. If the president has lost the independents, the argument goes, he’s lost a chance at a second term.
Putting aside the fact that independents are not a single, like-minded group of voters, the observation was not without merit. National candidates who struggle with this constituency generally fail to win, and there was evidence that Obama’s support with independents had slipped.
Over the last several weeks, however, that slide has reversed course. Much of this has to do with an improving economy – Obama has seen his standing improve with nearly all groups – but it also has something to do with a trend Republicans should find disconcerting: independents don’t seem to like Mitt Romney at all.
Take the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, for example. A month ago, Romney led the president among independents, 46% to 39%. As of this week, the numbers have flipped, and Obama now leads Romney among indy voters, 49% to 38%. That’s a dramatic shift in a very short period of time.
A Pew Research Center poll from earlier this week showed a similar trend – Romney has gone from a 10-point lead over the president among independents to an 8-point deficit in just a month.
TPM put together this chart to help drive the point home: the more independent voters see of Romney, the more they like Obama.
Without more data, it’s hard to say with confidence exactly why independents are turning on Romney so quickly. It could be any number of factors – the flip-flops, the campaign strategy based on attack ads, the out-of-touch gaffes, his layoff-driven riches – and most likely, it’s a combination of all of these.
Whatever the reason, the evidence suggests it may be a time for a reevaluation of GOP assumptions. Republicans have generally accepted as fact the notion that Romney is more electable than his rivals precisely because he can appeal to independent voters, but recent trends point in the opposite direction.