The fight for the independents
January 10th, 2012
03:05 PM ET
6 years ago

The fight for the independents

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) - Linda Underhill is one member of the largest voting bloc in New Hampshire: the independents.

More than 312,000 voters in the state are registered as "undeclared," as independents are called in the Granite State. Since August that voting group has seen its ranks grow slightly.

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Underhill, a resident of Merrimack, New Hampshire, has taken in several candidate events, including Mitt Romney's rally Saturday in Derry. After that appearance she told CNN she was leaning towards voting for Romney because she was impressed with his pitch.

Contacted Tuesday by CNN, she had changed her mind and had cast her vote for Jon Huntsman, who she called very smart and would likely aim for a bipartisan approach.

"In the past few days I watched him very closely," she said. "I just feel he is more genuine."

Underhill, who has voted for candidates of both parties and who did support candidate Barack Obama in 2008, watched both of this weekend's debates when Huntsman's performance had won some praise when he talked about why he had served as ambassador to China under a Democratic president because he wanted to serve the country.

Saying she now felt there was something "insincere" and "disingenuous" about Romney, she told CNN, "I can't get away from the fact that he is saying things that people want to hear."

The New Hampshire Secretary of State's office expects a record turnout in the GOP primary due in part to the participation of the "undeclared" voters. Since there is no competitive Democratic primary, unlike 2008, more of these voters are expected to vote in the Republican primary.

While these "undeclared" voters may be the largest single voting group, political experts in the state said it would be a mistake to think of them as one monolithic group.

Andrew Smith, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire and director of its polling center, said these voters should be seen in three distinct blocks: about 35% are really Democrats who mostly vote as Democrats; 30-35% align themselves mostly with Republicans and GOP candidates; and 30% are truly independent. Smith said these are the least likely to vote.

"What we are seeing in this election are about 60% who are going to vote are registered Republicans. Twenty percent are undeclared but who are really Republicans and behave like Republicans, 10% are undeclared who are Democrats...and 10% are true independent libertarians," Smith said.

For any campaign to be successful it has to understand these distinct voting groups and how to identify and reach them with the right message through phone calls, mailings and personal contacts.

"Talk about grassroots campaigning. That is true grassroots campaigning," Smith told CNN. That is "why Romney is in the best position. (His is the) only campaign that has that organization" to know which voters belong to which group and how to effectively sway them.

Smith and Dante Scala, also a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, both said independents in the state are not the key to winning.

"It never determines the outcome of the election. You have to win with your registered party," Smith said. "The winning of the independents is icing on the cake."

Scala pointed to 2000 when Arizona Sen. John McCain did as well with GOP registered voters as opponent George W. Bush, but his support among the independents helped put him over the top.

Among independents, Huntsman and Romney were tied according to an American Research Group poll taken Jan. 8-9 with both getting 25% of that block and Ron Paul grabbing 20%.

Scala said with independents being such a large group, "it does provide some unpredictability especially for those true independents" because they may not be paying as much attention as others who have been following the campaign more closely.

"People with weaker attachment...could crash the party" this year and could help determine who comes in second, third or fourth place in this year's primary, because several candidates were bunched close together behind Romney, who has led all polls with a large margin.

In 2008, independents made up 37% of the primary electorate. John McCain got 40% of them while Romney garnered 27% of the group. About 75,000 of the GOP voters in 2008 were independent, while more than 121,000 of the Democratic voters belonged to that group.

- CNN Political Research Director Robert Yoon and CNN Political Producer Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this story.

Follow Kevin Bohn on Twitter @KevinBohnCNN.

Also see:

Romney pushes back after protesters interrupt rally

Romney, Huntsman tie in midnight New Hampshire vote

Palin endorses (Todd, that is)

The context of Romney's remarks under 'fire'

Filed under: 2012 • New Hampshire
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    from the article:

    Saying she now felt there was something "insincere" and "disingenuous" about Romney, she told CNN, "I can't get away from the fact that he is saying things that people want to hear."
    Let me help you put your finger on it. Your mother taught you not to trust people who smile and talk at the same time, most especially when they are trying to persuade you to sell you something, be it merchandise or ideas.

    January 10, 2012 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  2. jerry

    yes Rudy NYC... especially when they have broad toothy smiles, big ears, and cold eyes....the eyes NEVER match the grin.

    January 10, 2012 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  3. MTATL67

    The GOP are so focused on the fare right they are driving away moderates and independent voters. They are following the old play book pander to the right then mop up for the general election. They do not seem to realize things have changed in this facebook/twitter/internet/mobile mass media world. Now that I joined twitter and I get news faster than the new sites can post the story. These twits give me access to stories around the country and these stories have an impact on who I'm going to vote for. The more I hear about Republicans in Tennessee that say bullying gay kids is acceptable to Speaker in Kansas calling the FOTUS Yomama. The less likely an independent or moderate would vote for them in the general election. My point being is that in this mass multi-media world these candidates extremist/racist comments/stupid comments. Their disgraceful confrontations with voters are no longer here today gone tomorrow. There is no mopping up because these comments and youtube videos are now stored as favorites on twitter.

    January 10, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    jerry wrote:

    yes Rudy NYC... especially when they have broad toothy smiles, big ears, and cold eyes....the eyes NEVER match the grin.
    Good call about the eyes. Very good call. So when you folks see me use the word "smalking" ( smile talking ) now you will know what I am talking about.

    January 10, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  5. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    jerry - especially when they have broad toothy smiles, big ears, and cold eyes....the eyes NEVER match the grin.
    Yes, Obama DOES match this description PERFECTLY!

    January 10, 2012 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  6. NC

    @Rudy NYC and Jerry I agree with you. Romney and his non veral communication is why I don't trust him. My mother always said look at the eyes and body language. Also he is used to getting everything he wants. When Romney is challenged the real Romney emerges. I don't trust a person that acts like a programmed robot.

    January 10, 2012 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  7. Indy

    Who would you trust when your children are put in harms way to serve their country ?


    January 10, 2012 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    this is confusing

    January 10, 2012 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Romney has the face and body language of a psychopathic predator. Go with your gut on this one, folks.

    January 10, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |