Some election watchers treat independent voters like the golden key to open up Star World in “Super Mario World.” If you know who is winning independents, the thinking goes, then you know who is going to win the election. There’s an appealing simplicity to the logic of this: If Democrats vote for the Democrat and Republicans vote for the Republican, then whoever wins independents wins. The problem: It just isn’t true historically, and it may be wrong this election, as well. Donald Trump is currently winning independent voters and is still trailing Hillary Clinton in the polls.
Clinton leads Trump by 3 percentage points in an average of live-interview telephone polls conducted over the last three weeks. In the same nine polls, Trump is carrying independent voters by an average of 7 points.
Average of live-interview telephone polls conducted over the three weeks preceding Sept. 14
Although the results differ from poll to poll, a clear pattern emerges: Trump does better with independents than he does with the electorate at large. Clinton is still winning overall because she is doing better with Democrats than Trump is with Republicans.
Data is rounded. Average of live-interview telephone polls conducted over the three weeks preceding Sept. 15.
Clinton leads among Democrats by an average of 81 percentage points, while Trump is ahead among Republicans by 76 points. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s meaningful. Trump has had problems with the GOP base since the primary season. Meanwhile, Clinton was cleaning up with self-identified Democratsduring the Democratic primaries, even as Bernie Sanders was doing well with independent voters. It’s also possible that Trump’s association with the Republican Party has caused some traditional Republican voters to call themselves independents, which makes the pool of independent voters more conservative leaning.
Indeed, many self-identified independents are …