Much of the mystery surrounding independent voters has been revealed and the discovery, through polls, media coverage and intense study of the last two presidential cycles, is that independent voters are not that different from partisan voters.
Barack Obama‘s campaign has said it wants to register millions of new black voters in the southern states of Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina and Virginia and young people between the ages of 18 to 25 (huge numbers have already been registered). But those will likely be Mr. Obama’s voters and Democrats or at least Democratic-leaning independents for years to come.
John McCain is facing a waning Republican base - current data show 10 percent fewer Republican registrants than Democrats nationwide - and he will have to rely on established GOP-leaning independents voters just to pull even in the election.
This leaves the remaining 10 percent of the voting population that are true independents as an absolutely necessary bloc for Mr. McCain to capture in order to win in November.
But in 2008, there may be a glimmer of hope for Mr. McCain. Most true independent voters do not pay attention to the election until the very end - either in October or the last two weeks of campaigns, according to poll research by the American National Election Study. But that may change, because the issues in this election include economic stresses with unemployment and home foreclosures at the top and high gas prices which have a volatile, in-your-face effect with voters. Unlike the Iraq war, where sides were taken early on and have shown some but not much shifting either way, most Democrats favoring an immediate-to-18-month end and most Republicans favoring a stay-until-we-have -won approach, these economic issues are very hard to ignore or remain neutral about.
And the best issue for Mr. McCain to capture that 10 percent of real independents early is by remaining strong on domestic energy. No matter what side of the political spectrum, Americans want more domestic oil production by as much as 73 percent, according to some polls. But Mr. McCain has hit a snag with the gang of 10 Republicans and Democrats, including his biggest Senate supporter, Lindsey Graham. The group has vowed to push an energy bill with very little drilling, loaded with subsidies and tax breaks for alternative and renewable fuels favorable to Democrats. Mr. McCain still has an advantage, but he has to target his outreach to explain how more subsidies could lead to inflation, just as they did with corn prices from corn-based-ethanol subsidies passed in the 2005 energy bill. That is the Bush-Cheney bill that Mr. Obama voted for and Mr. McCain voted against.