You’d be hard-pressed to find a political animal as mystifying, misunderstood and over-analyzed as the so-called “independent” voter of New Hampshire.
Independent voters (known officially as "undeclared" voters) make up nearly 45 percent of the state's registered voters. And ahead of each presidential election, like clockwork, outside reporters turning their attention toward New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary churn out story after story (some more nuanced than others) filled with prognostications over the potential influence of this unaffiliated voting bloc.
This cycle is, of course, no different.
A Los Angeles Times article out Monday suggests that — although many undeclared voters do in fact follow partisan voting patterns — the small slice that switches sides could represent a “significant wild card” for those looking to win in New Hampshire.
A few weeks ago, a National Journal piece explored whether crossover voting could spell trouble for some candidates — in the case that undeclared voters who might otherwise vote in the Democratic primary opt to vote in the Republican primary, particularly to thwart Donald Trump.
And in November, the Boston Globe made an even bolder prediction that undeclared voters’ “impact may be felt like never before in February’s presidential primary.”
For as much as the press and politicians chase these voters, what kind of weight do they actually hold? Earlier this year, Steve Koczela of The MassINC Polling Group tried to explore this very question in a column for NHPR.
Among his takeaways: Undeclared voters are indeed playing a larger role in the New Hampshire primary, but their participation in those primaries can fluctuate depending on the dynamics of a given election cycle.
And, as some of those recent stories have suggested, Koczela also noted that this segment of voters could make a difference on Feb. 9.
“Historically, the candidate with the highest level of support from partisans wins the primary,” Koczela writes. “But with the share of undeclared voters at an all-time high and rising, we are nearing the day when the whims of the undeclared voters may prove decisive.”
You can find more of Koczela’s analysis on the influence of the independents here.