Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Silent majority

This column reinforces my belief that the silent, centrist majority in this country is actually growing in power.

In the past 50 years independents have grown from one-quarter to one-third of the electorate, according to Gallup polls. In California, the number of independent voters more than doubled between 1991 and 2005. The fastest-growing political party in the United States is no party.

According to the American National Election Studies at the University of Michigan, the number of split-ticket voters in the electorate -- meaning people who vote for a Democrat for president and a Republican for Congress, or vice versa -- has gone up 42 percent since 1952. That shows a radical new willingness on the part of Americans to look at individual candidates, not party slates. It is a sign of a thinking electorate, not a partisan one. . .

These voters are untethered to either political party. While it's become conventional wisdom to say that voters' minds are firmly made up, and that certain candidates can or cannot win, it's just not true. The growing bloc of swing voters takes a hard look at candidates much later in the process, and they adjust and shift as they gather information. They may seem like wallflowers in the political process right now, but they are the ones a successful campaign eventually needs to cross the finish line.

The wingnuts on both sides may be the loudest, but I take comfort in the empirical evidence of the ever-growing importance for candidates to appeal to the mighty middle.