Independent "deliberators," those who can swing from one party to the next in consecutive elections, are mostly conservative on fiscal policy and liberal on social policy, according to a new study by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation.
The study uses a July 25 to Aug. 5 survey on 3,130 adults, one of the largest samples of any poll conducted this election year. It concludes that there are four types of independents -- disguised Democrats, disguised Republicans, detached independents and deliberator independents.
Disguised Democrats and disguised Republicans say they are independent but consistently side with one party or the other. Detached independents do not follow politics much and rarely register to vote. They tend to be younger, poorer and less educated.
Deliberators are the true swing voters. They may vote for one party in one election and another party in the next election. About one in three Americans are independents and of those, 13 percent are deliberators. While their vote may be up for grabs, there are so few of them that they will only determine the outcome in a close election.
The study helps explain why deliberators have difficulty settling upon a party or candidate. These voters mostly agree with Democrats on social policy and Republicans on fiscal policy. They are mostly liberal on abortion, gay marriage and church/state issues and mostly conservative on the size of government and federal spending.
When asked, "which of these do you think is more important right now – increasing federal spending to try to create jobs and improve the economy; or avoiding a big increase in the federal budget deficit?" sixty-two percent of deliberators said that avoiding a deficit increase in more important, a view more in line with Republican policies.
Deliberators are also more like Republicans on size of government issues. Sixty-nine percent said that government controls too much of our daily lives. Sixty-four percent said they would rather have a smaller federal government with fewer services than a larger federal government with many services.
On abortion, gay marriage and church and state, though, these voters looked more like Democrats.
When asked if "there should be a high degree of separation between church and state," or "the government should take special steps to protect America's religious heritage," 67 percent of deliberators preferred a high degree of church and state separation. When asked if "organized religious groups of all kinds should stay out of politics," or "it is important for organized religious groups to stand up for their beliefs in politics," 62 percent of deliberators preferred that religious groups stay out of politics.
When asked if religious and spiritual values should have more influence, less influence or about the same influence, a plurality, 48 percent, of deliberators answered "less influence." Only 23 percent want religious and spiritual values to have more influence.
Sixty-three percent of deliberators believe that gay marriage should be legal and 65 percent believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
When deliberators were asked who they would vote for, 28 percent said President Barack Obama, 33 percent said Republican nominee Mitt Romney and the rest are ... still deliberating.
The margin of error is plus or minus two percentage points for the full sample and plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the 1,054 independents in the sample. Since the deliberators are a subset of the independents, the margin of error for deliberators is greater than 3.5 percentage points.