Originally Published: April 18, 2012 9:50 p.m.
The 2012 presidential election campaign is now shaping up as a political life and death battle over independent voters, in which the losing candidate will be the one who turns them off the most.
Comedian-columnist Will Durst likened the 2012 Presidential primary race to the mania surrounding the video game Angry Birds: "The object of 'Angry Birds' is to use a slingshot to fling various flightless birds at flimsy houses built by egg-thieving green pigs. The object of the 2012 Republican primary race is, well, pretty much the same thing: to toss accusations and blame at the White House in order to steal independents from the Democrats. All while emitting unintelligible screeches, squeals and shrieks."
On the Democratic side the race is now on to toss accusations and blame at Republicans to prevent independents from going over to presumptive Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and to support Barack Obama.
The danger is when the smoke clears on Election Day, this high-stakes Angry Birds game will end with a political process resembling what flying pigeons drop on people, or a dead duck where a big chunk of voters is more disgusted by political parties and political rhetoric than ever before.
The indisputable fact is that the 2012 race will be all about which party can win - some independents would say "deceive" - the greatest number of independent voters. And often contradictory polls now suggest indies are up for grabs.
A Gallup tracking poll has Romney ahead of Obama 45 percent to 43 percent and leading in independent voters, 45 percent to 39 percent. A CNN poll has Obama leading Romney 52 percent to 43 percent, and ahead with women and indies. A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds Obama's lead over Romney has shrunk, with Obama at 47 percent and Romney at 43 percent.
These polls come within the context of polarized American politics, where the center is notably weak. Moderate Republicans are all but extinct in the GOP, and after the next election most conservative "Blue Dog Democrats" will likely be history as well. Moderates have all but vanished in Congress. Each party is largely defined by and reflects its ideological base. And the ranks of indies grow. Independent voters are often split between those who left their old parties and still lean towards them and those who simply like to independently judge each issue and candidate separately.
Here's some advice to both parties on how to lose independent voters in 2012:
Make your hypocrisy blatant, so what you say is later negated by press reports of what you said before or, better yet, video showing your past comments. Make the hypocrisy so clear that a mega-quick Google search shows your indignation was somehow missing when your side said or did the same thing. Or that you even said it yourself.
Be secretive and get caught at it on an open mic talking to a foreign leader or by a reporter who overhears a supposedly closed-door conversation. Refuse to or stall in releasing your tax returns and keep that issue alive. Compare your foes to famous dictators, or slap an extreme label on them and or compare them to political mass murders (Stalin, Hitler, Nazis, fascists, socialists, Marxists, Communists), so when indies look at you they hear The "Twilight Zone" theme.
Push the polarization button and only talk to your party's ideological base. Ignore, downplay or evade serious talk about the economy and what needs to be done next.
Team Obama and the Democrats seemingly assume that - no matter what - they'll eventually win independent voters." GOPers seem to feel they can easily paper over extremist rhetoric from the Republican primaries. The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky sees "signs that the Obama campaign is sounding ridiculously overconfident." This could be because neither Obama and the Democrats nor Romney and the Republicans fully understand the independent voters they're trying to harvest.
But independent voters understand Republicans and Democrats.
Which is why many independents remain independents.
Joe Gandelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.