They are the swing voters of the ultimate swing state.
Florida’s independent voters are either too conservative for the Republican Party, too liberal for the Democrats — or too, well, independent for either. They are all over the political map — an apt reflection of Florida, a state with a little bit of everywhere else.
But ultimately, they’ll cast the deciding votes that guarantee President Barack Obama a second term or help Mitt Romney unseat him.
Public-opinion surveys have swung left and right with the mood of independents. But they’re starting to settle on Romney.
A Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times survey found Romney winning 49-43 among independents.
An unscientific Miami Herald email survey of 2,051 registered no-party-affiliation voters who cast absentee ballots found they favored Obama 51-44 percent.
The responses generated from the email survey helped show what makes independents tick — and what ticks them off.
“I have vowed to never again vote for a candidate with a "D" or an "R" after their name. They are nothing but tools of the big corporations and their lobbyists,” Bob Knott, a Freeport voter said.
“Unfortunately, some people in your industry incur a big portion of the blame for this situation.”
Knott’s sentiment spanned the political spectrum, with some calling the media too conservative and others thinking it’s too liberal.
The email survey mirrored scientific polls in this regard: It showed Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson faring much better than Obama, beating U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV. A handful of voters said they were voting for Romney and Nelson, with one describing Mack’s campaign as pathetic.
Many of the independents sounded as if they were more motivated to vote against a candidate — mainly Obama or Romney — and less interested in actually voting for their candidate of choice, whether it was Romney or Obama. “We need jobs and economic growth,” wrote Chris Highmark, a Collier County voter, who cast his absentee ballot from Paradise Valley, Arizona.
“Obama’s tax policies will not only lead to a recession in 2013,” Highmark wrote, “but will suffocate future economic growth as both large and small businesses will not take the risks needed to grow the economy because the potential rewards will not overcome the risks.”
The voices of independents have become increasingly important in Florida for two major reasons:
• No Party Affiliation is the fastest growing major party in Florida since 2008, even though it’s not a party at all. Over the past four years, the ranks of NPAs have grown 22 percent to 2.6 million. That’s 22 percent of the roughly 12 million people on the total active voter rolls, which increased just 6 percent overall. The Democratic Party, the largest in Florida, grew only 1 percent, and the Republican Party’s ranks increased just 4 percent.
• The fastest-growing racial or ethnic segment of the electorate is Hispanic, with 14 percent of the total rolls and rising fast. Of the more than 300,000 new Hispanic voters on the rolls in the past four years, 46 percent became NPAs, 43 percent became Democrats and only 11 percent became Republicans. Less than 1 percent signed up with a third party, whose voters are typically considered independents as well because they’re independent of the Republican and Democratic parties.