Though there was no exit polling for this race and the exact number of independents who voted for Brown is still unknown, polling prior to election day showed independents heavily favoring the Republican. Sixty-five percent of independents reported they were planning to cast a ballot for Brown, according to a poll by Suffolk University. Independent voters also played an important role in electing Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia last fall.
Independents’ lack of a deep psychological attachment to one party or another makes them a naturally “volatile” electorate, explains Charles Stewart, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. They vote based on their perception of the times, rather than loyalty to a party or candidate.
“This is not a Democrat/Republican thing. This is an incumbent/newcomer thing,” says Ralph Polis, a registered independent. “The people defied the machine and the money.… It can happen and it happened right here in Massachusetts.”
But their abandonment of Obama was also based on more than just the issues, and it will have broad implications for Obama the Democratic party.
“The swing of independent voters to Republican candidates has changed the whole equation,” says Todd Domke, a GOP strategist based in Massachusetts. “Independents are not just angry because they disagree with Obama’s policies, but because they felt betrayed by him and leaders of Congress breaking their promises of transparency.”