Just how smart are the Independents?

Today my Parties and Voting Behavior class is going to be discussing political Independents and their impact on the U.S. political system. One question that comes up is whether or not some people identify as “Independent” instead of as a Democrat or Republican simply because they are less familiar with the political environment.

Below is a graph that charts the average number of political knowledge questions correctly answered among seven different partisan groups in a 2008 national survey of American citizens (the ANES).

The five questions were:

  1. Which political party is more conservative at the national level?  (Republicans)
  2. What job or political office does Nancy Pelosi now hold?  (Speaker of the House)
  3. What job or political office does Dick Cheney now hold?  (Vice-President)
  4. What job or political office does Gordon Brown now hold?  (Prime Minister of Great Britain)
  5. What job or political office does John Roberts now hold?  (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court)

Interestingly, it looks like pure Independents scored better on the political knowledge test than all other partisan groups, answering on average 0.5 questions more correctly than their counterparts who identify as a Democrat or Republican.

For whatever reason that Independents choose not to pick one of the traditional two political parties, it’s certainly not due to a lack of familiarity with the political environment.

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