What's Missing From Gallup's Party Identification Numbers
If the 63-seat House swing in 2010 -- accompanied by the rise of the Tea Party and the obliteration of the Blue Dog/Lindsay Graham contingent -- didn't already make this abundantly clear, party affiliation or independent status is not sufficient information to capture the leanings of the electorate. Gallup has found that a record 40 percent of Americans identify as independents, which is interesting, but we can't and shouldn't draw responsible conclusions based on this data alone.
The $63 trillion in unfunded entitlement programs in the room? Whether the independents consider themselves to the left or right of either party, and Gallup's follow-up "lean Democratic/lean Republican" question is still insufficient as a useful figure. Without clarification, Mitt and the GOP will never stop upholding "appeal to the center" as the all-important approach for the general, though this may be a useful tactic for the Democratic nominee.
What chunk of the electorate is "independent/right of GOP"? I wager this group comprises the majority of independents, a large enough group that "Republican" plus "independent/right of GOP" gets you to 51 percent.
"Independent/center", or perhaps "independent/leans Democratic from the right" and "independent/leans GOP from the left", is game-changer data which would require that media put a more accurate face on the electorate. And "independent/leans Democrat from the left" would be a useful figure for alerting Dem leadership of just how small Obama's base is.
Marginally useful figures like "40 percent - independent" are why Rove and Carville still get to work in Washington. Better numbers trump "expert" opinion.
Why don't we have these figures?