We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again in light of what happened in Massachusetts on Tuesday:
Independent voters remain the key to election success. It was true in the Bay State — a blue state that overwhelmingly chose a red Republican to succeed the bluest of blue Democrats, the late Ted Kennedy. And it’ll be true in New Hampshire for Election 2010.
Forget the Democratic base as a means to vault Democratic candidates over the top in New Hampshire. The base isn’t that big.
Martha Coakley learned that lesson in her showdown with Republican Scott Brown, and apparently she didn’t pay much attention to polling numbers that as recently as Jan. 10 showed Independent voters as being the deciding factor.
The University of New Hampshire Survey Center, in a poll for The Boston Globe, determined:
Those in Massachusetts who identified themselves as independent voters were shown as being evenly split between Coakley and Brown with 43 percent saying they were leaning toward Brown and 44 percent saying they were leaning for Coakley.
And they identified health care reform (30 percent) as their most important issue followed by jobs.
Yet it was these Independents — evenly divided nine days before the special election, and the same who helped elect Barack Obama as president — who turned to the Republican.
So what does that mean for New Hampshire?
A mid-summer poll by the Survey Center looked at a possible match-up between Democrat Paul Hodes (the current U.S. representative from the Second Congressional District) and Republican Kelly Ayotte (the former attorney general).
It found: “…the strongest potential Republican contender is Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. In a hypothetical Hodes Ayotte race, 39% of New Hampshire likely voters would support Ayotte, 35% would back Hodes, 2% would back some other candidate, and 24% are undecided. Ayotte is leading in part because political Independents prefer her
over Hodes by 33% to 26%.”
In an October poll, the Survey Center said: “Ayotte’s lead over Hodes has increased slightly since June when she led by a 39% to 35% margin. Ayotte is doing better than Hodes among her party, getting 76% of the Republican vote compared to Hodes getting 61% of the Democratic vote, and she also leads among political independents by 35% to 26%.”
It’s been said that 45 percent of all New Hampshire’s voters are registered as Independents. It gives them flexibility when it comes to the primaries when they can choose to vote as Democrats or Republicans. It also keeps them intellectually and politically from being equated with the Democratic base or the Republican base.
The Independents had their say in Massachusetts and are having their say nationally.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Obama’s job-approval among the nation’s Independents is 41 percent — an 11-point drop from his performance on Election Day in 2008, when he won 52 percent of independents. It’s about a 20-point decline among Independents from the heights of his popularity soon after taking office.
“The independents are the fulcrum of the American electorate,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the Journal survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, said in a Wall Street Journal story about the poll. “Simply put, for the Democrats and Barack Obama, the arrows have been pointing down.”
For Independents, their question is: “What have you done for me today?” They’re impatient, and if they’re not satisfied, they’ll look elsewhere for a candidate in a hurry.
As U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign effort, told The Associated Press: It’s not just about Republicans and Democrats, he said, “We have to do a much better job of both engaging and delivering to independent voters.”