Last wednesday, July 22, radio talk show host Michael Savage took issue with a caller who argued that he speaks for conservatives and not for independents (for Savage’s part, the former herbalist sees himself as giving voice to independent conservatives), and consequently does not have the electoral heft he claims to have. Savage asked what percentage of political independents are conservative, and when the caller could provide no answer, the host responded by suggesting that somewhere between 30% and 50% of them are (he later upped it to 80%), and that he is a vociferous force acting on their behalf.
When I listen to commentators and pundits make quantitative claims, I’m occasionally able to flatter myself by shooting them down. Given the amount of time I spend thinking about politics, I was embarrassed to realize, however, that the question at hand was not something I’ve ever looked at empirically.
Fortunately, the GSS provides an answer, and a mundane one at that. Turns out those without a party affiliation tend to self-describe as political moderates, forming something close to a normal distribution tailing off to the left and right, as the following table shows. To ensure contemporary relevance, only responses from 2004-2008 are considered (N = 1390):
|Distribution of independents|
Savage’s low-end estimate of 30% is too high. Given the lowbrow nature of talk radio, hyperbole is stock-in-trade in the broadcasting business.
GSS variables used: YEAR(2004-2008), POLVIEWS, PARTYID(3)