Pew has a new survey out that looks at the nature of politically independent voters, and the upshot is something that is apparent from polling but still goes rather undiscussed on network news: Independents are not just a large cohort of people sitting on the fence, malleable and easily persuaded.

From Pew: “Among other things, it illustrated that independents have lower levels of political participation and are demographically different from those who affiliate with a party – and that their views are often as divided as those of self-identified partisans.”

Independent simply means that these voters are independent from a party label, but not that they don’t feel strongly about a host of issues. From the survey, “only 7% of Americans overall don’t express a partisan leaning,” while the rest of those who are independent “lean” Republican or Democratic.

Image from Pew Research Center

Here are the six facts Pew shared that were most salient:

  1. Nearly four-in-ten U.S. adults (38%) identify as politically independent, but most “lean” toward one of the two major parties.

  2. Independents who lean to one of the two parties are often much closer to partisans in their views than they are to independents who lean to the other party.

  3. On some issues, there are significant differences between leaners and partisans. (e.g., independents who lean Republican are more likely to support same-sex marriage than registered Republicans).

  4. Independents – particularly the 7% of Americans who don’t lean toward a party – are less politically engaged than partisans.

  5. Leaners are much less likely than partisans to say quality of candidates running for office “has been good.” Independents feel more negatively about political candidates and parties than partisans.

  6. Independents are younger and more likely to be male than partisans.


You can find a great breakdown of how North Carolina voters vary in their partisan affiliations and other data at Old North State Politics.

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