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SCHOEN: Midterm Elections All Come Down To Independent Voters. Who Do They Prefer This Time Around?

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Douglas Schoen Douglas E. Schoen is a Democratic pollster and strategist. He is the author of “Power: the 50 Truths.”
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Elections are largely decided by the political center of the country. Independent voters swung the election for Donald Trump in 2016, and this group’s subsequent rejection of Trumpism in the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election played a crucial role in helping Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House.

Independent voters will have a particularly outsized importance in this year’s midterm elections. Both the Democratic and Republican bases are highly enthusiastic about voting, and congressional control hinges on a handful of very close races. (RELATED: MCKENNA: The Stars Will Align For Republicans In November. Here’s Why)

While Independent voters tilted toward Democrats over the summer — when the party was enjoying a surge in political momentum due to the reversal of Roe v. Wade and declining gas prices – there has been a rightward shift among this group in recent weeks, fueled by the renewed national focus on the deteriorating economy.

Wall Street Journal polling conducted in mid-August showed Democrats with a lead in the generic ballot among voters overall, buoyed by a 3-point advantage with Independent voters.

However, the combination of surging inflation, increasing interest rates and the declining stock market is fueling fears of an economic downturn, which has shifted the national issues agenda — and in turn, the Independent vote — back in the GOP’s favor.

Republicans now hold a 1-point lead in the generic ballot among likely voters, and are 5-points ahead with Independent voters, per a recent Economist/YouGov poll.

Further, the latest Monmouth University poll finds that Independent voters widely prefer Republican control of Congress (47%) over Democratic control (35%).

As inherently non-partisan voters, Independents tend to prioritize quality-of-life concerns like the cost of living over divisive national debates. Thus, a cultural-issues-oriented agenda, which is what Democrats are running on, does not appeal to these voters as much as the GOP’s economy-focused platform.

This is not to say that Independent voters are indifferent to issues like abortion rights — in fact, this group broadly supports protecting a woman’s right to choose, as evidenced by the increase in support for Democrats following the Dobbs decision among Independent women in particular.

That being said, Independents are twice as likely to prioritize the economy and the cost of living (61%) over concerns about fundamental rights and the democratic process (29%), per the Monmouth University survey.

On top of that, the fact that overwhelming majorities of Independents cite inflation and rising prices as their top concern — but also describe the economy as poor (80%) and disapprove of Joe Biden’s handling of inflation (76%) — bodes poorly for Democrats’ chances.

Trump’s absence on the ballot this year has also enabled the rightward shift among Independent voters. While some Trump-endorsed candidates in toss-up races are faring better than others, Democrats have not been able to “put Trump on the ballot,” so to speak, to the extent the party would have hoped.

In actuality, genuinely persuadable Independents are a small group, as most voters in the middle tend to lean toward one party. However, in such a close election year, a 2-or 3-point shift among Independents could be the difference of two or three Senate seats — which may decide control of the upper-chamber — as well as a handful of crucial House seats.

Despite the weaknesses of Republican candidates in several close Senate races – meaning, their extreme positions or inexperience – the salience of the national GOP issues agenda may carry some of these weak candidates over the finish line.

Indeed, the GOP Senate candidates in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin currently lead with Independent voters, while the Democrat has a comfortable advantage in Arizona and is slightly ahead in Pennsylvania.

While the political dynamics could very-well change over the next month, at this point, it seems that the movement toward the GOP among Independent voters will sustain itself, and could end up costing Democrats control of Congress.

Douglas E. Schoen is a Democratic pollster and strategist. He is the author of “The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, From the Grass Roots to the White House.”

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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