'Independent' In Name Only?

By WGBH News

Jan. 10, 2012


Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman campaigns from the counter at the Bean Towne Coffee House & Cafe in Hampstead, N.H., on Jan. 8. (Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

BOSTON — The proportion of unaffiliated voters is growing in states across the nation but New Hampshire's 40 percent is still unusually high. That said, they might not be as independent as they seem.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said that most studies show "a sizable majority of independents are what we call hidden partisans. They actually vote either Democratic or Republican to the same degree as people who openly declare themselves to be Democrats or Republicans."
So why don't they just declare an affiliation?
First, there's the question of image. "It's popular to be an independent. It's fashionable," Sabato said. Second, "they may have some conflict with a precept or two of the party that they actually identify with." That doesn't keep them from voting in that party's primary, though.
Sabato has a reputation for being on the money with his predictions.
"It will be a shock if Mitt Romney doesn't win and win comfortably," he said, but "independent voters in New Hampshire tend to pick more of the anti-establishment candidates." He's predicting Jon Huntsman second and Ron Paul third or maybe second.
Looking ahead, the real question about New Hampshire is whether Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum places fourth. "In South Carolina conservatives are going to be looking for a candidate to rally around," Sabato said, and they may choose the one who was more successful up north. 

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