Atrios at Eschaton: "People may think of themselves as independent for all kinds of reasons, but in my experience many of the people who do so just don't pay too much attention to politics. When ideology is the reason it's because they're fed up lefties or libertarians."
America has third and fourth Parties, but they're called "independents". One of these days I want to do a post, analyzing the psychology and political functions of "independents" -- electorally, psychologically and in the Media.
A lot of Media pundits assign themselves to the "independent" Party, as a matter of role -- sometimes cynically or dishonestly, sometimes with idealistic notions about a journalist's commitments to objectivity. And, the Media's political "independence" and "objectivity" becomes a model for the political "independence" of much of the politically under-informed and under-involved general electorate.
digby at Hullabaloo asserts: "The number of independents out there is quite large and all national politicians need to reach them in elections in order to win. But the knee jerk assumption that they are always more moderate than everyone else is probably wrong. They might just be more cranky, more cynical, more uninformed, more skeptical or more impatient. There are a lot of reasons why someone might be an independent in American politics but I suspect that ideology is at the bottom of the list."
I don't know that "ideology" has much to do with American politics, or partisan alignment, so it is difficult for me to assign a meaning to digby's use of the word. But, identifying with a political Party does have consequences for people's opinions: it's not unlike the way people tend to start coordinating their strides, when they walk in a group. And, being an "independent" also has consequences, in attitudes and opinions and openness to persuasion and openness to compromise or alliance.
"Moderate" might not be the right word in every respect, but there's legitimacy in believing that most self-proclaimed "independents" -- even though they do not share opinions with each other, do, in fact, by virtue of their identification as "independents" do have in common -- again not opinions themselves -- an alignment of opinions and attitudes oriented "between" the positions of the two Parties. Whether its an alignment of hostility to both, or of middle-of-the-road compromise and "some truth in both positions", it is still an alignment. On the open political issues -- the issues of active controversy and choice -- this is just the way it is going to be.
On the latent issues, it is harder to tell. The tendency of many of the independents to be politically disinterested and uninformed will be more telling. But, there are a lot of latent issues -- most issues are latent at any one moment.
It is in the transition from latency to active, that propaganda has its biggest impact. The Right is much better prepared to exploit latent issues becoming active, and the Media, and its nominally "independent" punditrocrisy, is part of the apparatus for making the exploitation of ignorance among the "independents" possible and cheap.