Will Independent Voters Decide the Election?


In recent years, more and more people have been registering as independent voters in the US, rather than as Democrat or Republican. The independents now control well over one third of the votes. Are they likely vote for the Democratic or Republican candidates in the upcoming election? Let's break down some numbers to try and figure that out.

I was looking around for data and pre-existing graphs on this topic, and found a pretty good article on the Washington Post website. It contained the following graphs, which I thought were fairly insightful:

But the more I studied these pies, the more I noticed that they were more of an "attention grabber," rather than something for serious analytics. Here are a few details that could be improved:

  • There are no % signs on the numbers, so you have to guess that they are percents.
  • The Dems and GOP slices aren't labeled in the second pie.
  • "Exploding" the slices makes it more difficult to compare the angles.
  • With no reference lines, it is difficult to tell how much more/less than 25% each slice is.

So I re-made the graphs in SAS, and tried to fix all the above problems.

political_party_pie

political_party_pie1

The pie charts show the current (2016) data, but I also wondered how the numbers have changed over time. Luckily, the article also had a graph for that.

But as I studied their bar chart, I found it difficult to get much precise insight from it. And there were a few aesthetic deficiencies that jumped out at me. Here are the things I tried to improve in my SAS version of the chart:

  • There are no % signs on the axis, so you have to guess that they are percents.
  • It is difficult to see where the 50% split is, with no reference line.
  • The legend colors go left-to-right, but the bar segments are stacked bottom-to-top.
  • The gaps between the bars make it difficult to see the "flow" of data over time.
  • Some bars have no year labels, although there is plenty of room to fit them.

political_party_bar

So, historically, it looks like there were definitely more voters leaning Democrat during the 2007/2008/2009 time period, but in 2016 it's pretty close to a 50/50 split. Most independents seem to lean one way or the other, but there are still enough non-leaning ones to influence which party will win. 2016 should be an interesting election year, eh!

Now for some fun.

What would a good blog post be, without a few random photos? Here are some pictures of "I Voted" stickers provided by several of my friends. See if you can match the photos (numbered 1-4) with the correct person's name. (There might even be a way to cheat on this one).

  • Trena: Registered Republican (that's the red slice in the pie chart).
  • Becky: Registered Independent, and was voter #26 in the election where she got this sticker.
  • Karen: Registered Unaffiliated, but leans somewhat Republican and describes herself as a constitutional conservative (She's the pink slice in the pie chart, like 14% of the voters).
  • Margie: Registered Unaffiliated, and describes her thinking as left-leaning Libertarian. (Her nickname is "Clever Sign Chick," so of course would have to make her own sticker.)

Photo 1
Photo 1

Photo 2
Photo 2

Photo 3
Photo 3

Photo 4
Photo 4

This content was reposted from the SAS Training Post. Go there to read the original blog.

Robert Allison, The Graph Guy!, SAS

Robert Allison has worked at SAS for more than 20 years and is perhaps the foremost expert in creating custom graphs using SAS/GRAPH. His educational background is in computer science, and he holds a BS, MS, and PhD from North Carolina State University. He is the author of several conference papers, has won a few graphic competitions, and has written a book calledSAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics.

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Re: Rise in Independents
  • 6/30/2016 9:04:42 AM
NO RATINGS

That emotional/visceral sense is so hard to predict though.  As a voter I don't think what Wallstreet thinks has ever crossed my mind.  I know we've had dips in the market based on elections but overall it has always leveled out.  We hear about the "markets" worrying about how a politician will change things but rarely do they have enough of an effect that all of the initial panic makes sense. 

Re: Rise in Independents
  • 6/30/2016 9:01:31 AM
NO RATINGS

I don't think the Brexit vote will affect American politics at all.  We'll have forgotten about the drama and drawing parallels between the two just won't happen for American voters.  Maybe that will be a campaign tactic in the future, warning of the effects your vote will have on the financial markets in the short term. Long term we really don't know what the Brexit vote mean so how do you campaign on that?

Re: Changes
  • 6/28/2016 10:47:32 PM
NO RATINGS

What's even stranger than the electoral college are the rules that each US party follows to nomimate a candidate. There has been a lot of talk this year with Trump and Clinton and Bernie. But the rules are relatively straight-forward. Check out what the rules were like even as recently as the 60s, and you'll understand why people rioted back in 68 in Chicago.

Re: Rise in Independents
  • 6/28/2016 12:48:16 PM
NO RATINGS

@Terry absolutely true. If you ever want to see cognitive bias illustrated, just ask people about why they stick with a particular party line -- no matter what. 

Re: Rise in Independents
  • 6/28/2016 12:40:26 PM
NO RATINGS

Right on, SaneIT... the Brexit vote is an excellent reminder that markets aren't sane, rational entities. They are as prone to being enthralled (or derailed) by the latest shiny thing as a three year-old. And all the emotion just makes investors' crystal ball even murkier. And yet, emotion (or some sort of visceral sense in the gut) is what drives voters more than they'd like to admit. Facts and data only take you so far with constituents.

Re: Changes
  • 6/28/2016 9:43:29 AM
NO RATINGS

@MagneticNorth. Don't worry, the electoral college seems like a strange beast to those of us in the US as well.

Re: Rise in Independents
  • 6/28/2016 8:43:50 AM
NO RATINGS

It remains to be seen what effect ths will have on our election. many British voters are expressing regret and they may well influence the feelings of Trump supporters.

Re: Rise in Independents
  • 6/28/2016 8:14:21 AM
NO RATINGS

Brexit has been a good example of watching politics and confusion around them.  The whole world is talking about it even if they don't know exactly what it means.  The decision hasn't changed anything yet, doesn't directly affect most of us here in the US but we're talking about it more now than about our own election cycle.  The vote alone is being blamed for panic in the financial sector but the only thing that changed from one day to the next was the confirmation of intent by the voters.  Everything I've seen says it will be years before anything actually happens but the markets have already started to act as if the world is crumbling around them.  Voters are watching this and wondering about the why and how.

Re: Changes
  • 6/28/2016 1:59:21 AM
NO RATINGS

@Maryam The US' electoral college does seem strange to me, an outsider, though reading up on US history helped me understand why it came about. It really is outdated. What would it take to change it into a simpler popular vote? Maybe this is one case where a referendum would make sense.

Re: Rise in Independents
  • 6/27/2016 12:23:00 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Tomsg writes "I think the Brexit vote also demonstrates this feeling."

I agree. Liberal economist Robert Kuttner has a fairly insightful analysis in the Huffington Post – Brexit: Why Most Commentaries Miss The Point. He dissects several common attempts at explaining the Brexit upheaval, and comes to somewhat different conclusions, some of which parallel my own previously posted thoughts. Here are excerpts:


In the 1980s, as a backlash against the dislocations of the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain (and Ronald Reagan in the US). Their policies returned to a dog-eat-dog brand of capitalism that benefited elites and hurt ordinary people. By the 1990s, when the European Economic Community became a more tightly knit European Union, it too became an agent of neo-liberalism.

Policies of deregulation ended in the financial collapse of 2008. The austerity cure, enforced the gnomes of Brussels and Frankfurt and Berlin, is in many ways worse than the disease.

Rising mass discontent has failed to dethrone the elites responsible for these policies, but it has resulted in loss of faith in institutions. The one percent won the policies but lost the people.

So, yes, the Brits who voted for Brexit got a lot of facts and details wrong. And Britain will probably be worse off as a result. But they did grasp that the larger economic system is serving elites and is not serving them.


 

I don't necessarily agree with all of Kuttner's characterizations, but I think he exposes fairly well the roots of some of the mass discontent that has produced Brexit.

..

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