Independent voters around the country will likely decide a close 2012 presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and one region of the country where independents could play an especially important role is The Mountain West. Surging numbers of registered independent voters in states like New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada will be targeted, messaged, persuaded, and pandered to over the last four months of the 2012. Let’s take a closer look at these four states, where independent voters could tip close races one way or another to win crucial Electoral College votes for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
New Mexico: The Gary Johnson Factor! While Johnson’s Libertarian presidential campaign isn’t taken seriously by most of the mainstream media, it remains to be seen how many New Mexico voters will support their former two term governor at the polls. A 2011 survey of New Mexico voters found that Johnson still had a +12 approval rating (44/32) after 8 years out of office, and there’s no doubt the Johnson campaign will try hard to win votes in the state where he starts out with the greatest name recognition. In New Mexico, 17% of voters are registered as “decline to state,” but whether independents will break for a Libertarian candidate remains to be seen. Johnson has polled as high 12% in New Mexico and 9% in Arizona in recent months, and his campaign message has appeal to several factions of “Ron Paul” voters in Nevada and Colorado as well. Johnson certainly has the potential to siphon off votes from Mitt Romney as a well liked two term Republican Governor of New Mexico, and time will tell this November if voters are willing to cast a third party presidential vote.
“They are middle-income 46-year-olds. Men slightly outnumber women. Their exact racial and ethnic breakdown is unknown, but most live in cities that are predominantly white and non-Latino… These are the unaffiliated voters in Colorado’s three swing counties who will determine who wins Colorado and perhaps the presidency…”
Arizona: Arizona’s independent voters are now the second largest group in the state – 36 percent of registered voters are Republican, 30 percent are Democrats and 33 percent are independents. The Arizona Republic has even gone so far as to suggest that Arizona Democrats can’t compete with the independent surge – they have a “branding problem.” Since the 2008 Presidential election, Democrats have lost 75,000 voter registrations, while independents have gained 217,000. While electoral math guru Nate Silver has reminded us that Arizona (probably) isn’t a swing state, the growth of registered independents over the last four years likely means Arizona will be a swing state in future elections.
“President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney must face down a dubious and slippery opponent in Nevada this November. The mystery foe cannot be tamed with television ads and never breaks a campaign pledge. Its name is “none of these candidates…” Nevada is the only state in the nation to offer voters the quirky ballot choice, and for more than three decades, statewide candidates here have had to contend with it.
In a year where political approval ratings are at a record low around the country, could voting “none” be a factor in 2012? Certainly one would imagine that several “protest” votes will be cast, and disgruntled independents will make up a large portion.
Latino Voters: The Mountain West region is home to a large number of Latino voters, and given their regent surge in population throughout the region, Latinos are an especially important group for both Obama and Romney to win. A recent Gallup poll found that 51% of Latino voters consider themselves independent, although they often trend towards to supporting Democrats. Already, both campaigns are making the typical awkward overtures of non spanish speaking candidates to try and reach the demographic, but recent polling has found that President Obama is way ahead, 61% to 27%. These statistics are especially important to consider in Arizona, where Democrats have recently struggled to outreach and register to Latino voters, even in light of the state’s flashpoint conservative immigration policy. An ambitious Latino voter registration and persuasion effort by the Obama campaign in Arizona could potentially swing enough of the state’s 30% Latino population for a surprise win.