September 9th, 2008
11:32 AM ET

McCain’s new edge among Independents

John P. Avlon
Author, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics

John McCain has opened up a 15-point lead among independents, according to a new Gallup Poll – and Barack Obama has a problem.

This is a decisive shift that builds off McCain's historic brand-name credibility with Independent voters. McCain was their favorite political figure for most of this decade. He fought the Karl Rove play-to-the-base politics on the campaign trail in 2000. And he fought with Tom Delay's conservative congress which was kicked out in 2006 after unprecedented pork barrel spending and indictments for corruption.

But Independents' identification with John McCain suffered greatly when he began his latest presidential campaign by running as the Republican establishment candidate.

Independents and centrists voters have been deeply alienated by the Bush administration – after a centrist campaign as a "compassionate conservative," the Bushies governed as conservative partisans. Where most Independents and centrists can be described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal – the Bush administration has been the opposite: fiscally liberal and socially conservative.

McCain's political embrace of the Bush administration in the primaries – and his rapprochement with Jerry Falwell and others who McCain famously described as "agents of intolerance" in 2000 – drove a wedge between McCain and many Independents. A surprising number of the self-described Obama Republicans who rallied around the Democrat's candidacy this spring were former McCain supporters from 2000.

But this new Gallup poll shows McCain getting his groove back with Independents in a big way – 52% to 37% – a 15-point bump since the convention. Dig deeper into the numbers and you'll see that self-described "conservative Democrats" – a centrist demographic – have seen their support for McCain jump from 15% to 25% since the convention. Those are the crossover votes that also signal shifting support from swing voters – it is a sign of the race shifting in McCain's favor.

After all, Independents are now the largest and fastest growing segment of the American electorate – with the rank and file Republicans and Democrats predictably polarized, it's the independents that will determine the winners in the swing states and this election.

And for every pundit and political scientist whoever said that VP picks don't matter this side of Lyndon Johnson, bite your tongue. The style, if not the substance (we'll begin to know more after her first interview later this week) of Sarah Palin has helped shift the race.

Palin shook up assumptions about the GOP (doesn't look a thing like Dick Cheney). And her speech avoided almost any mention of the right wing social issues which are a wedge between her and most independents' political beliefs.

Instead Palin and McCain sang from the same hymnal at the Republican Convention: all fiscal conservative, anti-corruption reformer, with a strong dose of anti-establishment maverick thrown in. McCain's own biography of personal courage in wartime – and his associated strength on national security issues – all combine to make a compelling message for independents. And they are responding.

In a posting tomorrow morning, I'll detail how Barack Obama can reverse this trend to regain the post-partisan edge and Independents' excitement which helped propel him to the nomination.

Filed under: John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
soundoff (153 Responses)
  1. Mary-Florida

    Reading through the comments posted, it is obvious that far too many voters are only reading, or listening to, their groups rhetoric. This is far too important an election... please read everything that you can find... with an open mind.
    The world that our children must live in now is not the one that your grandparents had. It's petty and we're better than that as a nation. Change is needed... starting with the old political manipulation by the parties
    Anyone's belief that they can ride like the calvary or tell good guys from bad guys by the color of the hats was never reasonable and in today's world is dangerous.
    We can't shoot our way out of every disagreement with other countries and if they don't want our type of government it is their choice. We can only support efforts for human rights... which we don't unless it is to our financial interest. Does anyone believe that we would care about the forsaken deserts of Iraq if there wasn't oil there ?
    Please take a deept breath. Decide where you want change to start.
    The reason you don't trust Washington is because your instincts are telling you that you've been manipulated in the past.
    Is it happening now ?

    September 26, 2008 at 9:25 am |
  2. Yonas


    Please wake up, I beleive anyone who supports McCain and (no substance) Palin who barely has a college degree is compeletly out of touch. Any Hillary supporters who now support McCain is a coward and a racist. You are not a democratic, you are traitor.

    THIS ELECTION IS ABOUT RACE. And America is that stupid to vote for McCain. America needs to get over there old values and except what Obama can deliver. Again to all you so called democrats who support McCain shame on you, and America knows why you guys have a change of heart. And that my friend is exactly why the world is laughing at us.

    Obama 08
    Change will come

    September 10, 2008 at 12:23 pm |
  3. Marie J.


    Good article. I think you are on to something following the independant voters – we are usually greatly ignored. But as a centrist, I look for the candidate that will cross party lines, think about what's right and not about their party's platform, and make things work instead of gridlock. The ONLY candidate for that is McCain/Palin. Look at McCain – he considered becoming a democrat, he is so central, look at Palin – she bucked the machine in Alaska to get things done.

    All I hear from the Democrats is very devisive us against them rhetoric – with no promise to put Republicans on the cabinet or team with them in any way. McCain has in the past and promises in the future to team and have democrats in on his team. THAT is my deciding vote! I'm so sick of partisian politics – I need my government to get things done – not block each others legislation. Think about that! Also, if you fact check the McCain campaign – you should equalize it with a factcheck on the Nobama campaign.

    September 10, 2008 at 11:08 am |
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