Health Care Could Sway Swing Voters

Health care is a key issue for voters of both parties in the 2008 presidential election, ranking second for Democrats and fourth for Republicans. But the issue is also important to many independent voters, who could play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the election.

A study last month by the Washington Post, Harvard University and the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that three in 10 Americans identify as independents. One thing the researchers wanted to know was how independent voters differ from one another. They divided independents into five groups:

Deliberators (18 percent of independents): Classic swing voters who believe in the two-party system and tend to vote for Republicans and Democrats about equally
Disillusioned (18%): Independents who are deeply dissatisfied with politics and have unfavorable views of both parties
Dislocated (16%): Those who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, engaged and active in politics
Disengaged (24%): Independents who are not interested in politics and not likely to vote
Disguised Partisans: Independents who think and vote like partisans, and can be broken down into Disguised Democrats (15%) and Disguised Republicans (9%)

A follow-up study released last week found that health care ranked third among all the groups as the most important issue for the government to address but ranked significantly higher among those in the Disillusioned and Disguised Democrats Group. Those voters make up a third of independents and 10 percent of the entire population. According to the study, these “could be key audiences for candidates looking to break through with voters on this issue.”

That’s good news for health care reform advocates because candidates know swing voters can swing elections. A Washington Post story on the study of independents summed it up:

In 2004, Bush and Kerry split the independent vote, but in 2006 independents swung toward Democratic House candidates by a wide margin. They are poised to play a decisive role in 2008.