Untethered to a political party, however, independents are proportionately less likely to vote than Republicans or Democrats. As of Saturday morning, independents had cast about 690,000 absentee and in-person early votes. That’s about 18 percent of the total 4 million early ballots. Democrats have cast nearly 43 percent and Republicans about 40 percent.
The Florida independent votes are particularly crucial to Mitt Romney’s national election hopes. The Republican needs to win Florida more than Obama because a Florida win for a Democrat gives him three of the four most-populous states — a nearly insurmountable lead in the Electoral College.
The major political parties still hold all the political power and clout because they’re organized and have a grip on power in the Legislature and Congress, which allows them to continue raising money from the special interests that the lawmakers regulate.
Democrats hold a 4.5 percentage point edge over registered Republicans in Florida, but because so many North Florida Democrats vote conservatively, the state is more conservative than it appears, said Brad Coker, pollster with Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted The Herald’s latest poll of 800 likely voters that was released Friday night.
The telephone survey showed Romney leading overall, 51-45 percent, and was conducted Tuesday through Thursday for The Herald, El Nuevo Herald, the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
“It’s almost impossible to win Florida without winning the independent vote,” Coker said. “They are the swing voters.”
And they swung wildly against Obama in October after his first debate, which the president lost badly to Romney.
Before the debate, Obama was nursing an inside-the-error margin lead over Romney in Florida, in part because the president was carrying independents by 11 points.
Then the debate happened.
Independents shifted a cumulative 24 points in Romney’s favor, so that he then led by 13 among them. The president cut that lead to 6 in the last poll.
But it isn’t enough to overcome the damage from that first debate.
“Fact 1: Received absentee vote same day as Romney vs Obama debate #1. Easy decision,” wrote Gainesville independent Steven J. Black.
“Fact 2. Have watched Mack get his wrists get nailed through by the … media with no rebuttal,” wrote Black, a military retiree, who suggested that Mack’s campaign was like a soldier who went AWOL. “Mack’s campaign is well beyond desertion.”
Some who voted for Obama didn’t sound motivated to support the candidate; instead they sounded as if they were spooked by conservatives.
“The Republican Party’s behavior as a whole, including the methods used to purge the voter rolls nationwide, and the meddling in the judiciary in the State of Florida, really turned me off,” Angela Roughton, a Miami Beach absentee-ballot voter, wrote.
“If I was a competitive sportsman, perhaps I would grasp the concept of winning at all costs,” she said. “The center is the place for me.”
Some who voted for Romney had similar concerns about some aspects of the conservative movement.
“I wish candidates would stay out of social issues like abortion and religion and stick to the economy and defense,” wrote Dennis O’Malley, a Pinellas County resident who cast his ballot for Romney from Washington, N.H.
Sarasota independent Alan Boorstein couldn’t bring himself to vote for either Obama or Romney. He voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson and Nelson for Senate.
Boorstein wants lobbying banned and legislators to take a 50 percent cut in salary, and a mandate that they clock 50 five-day work weeks annually.
Boorstein also faulted the Supreme Court for its “Citizens United” decision that helped pave the way for more secretive campaign money, which bothers him because it fuels the campaigns that he abhors.
“The worst part of living in a battleground state is the endless television commercials (primaries & general election) and the non-stop robo calling from both sides,” Boorstein wrote. “I could go on and on but what is the point, no matter who wins, nothing will change.”