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2024 presidential election could come down to independents, but what do they want?

Independents are seeking moderation in their presidential candidate
Independents are seeking moderation in their presidential candidate 02:40

BOSTON - If history is any guide, the key to victory in the November election will be winning the independent vote.

So what is the mood of independents right now, and how is it different from the electorate at large?

Who are the independents?  

They're the ones who make the difference, the 43% of U.S. voters who identify as independents, compared with just 27% each who say they're Democrats or Republicans.

Why do they shun the two major parties? According to the new Harvard Center for American Political Studies/Harris poll, they really don't like partisanship and extremism.

For instance, among all voters, favorable views of the Supreme Court outdrew unfavorable opinions by 13 points. But it was the opposite among independents: 10 points more negative than positive about the court. Fallout from the overturning of Roe v. Wade? The poll doesn't make that clear, but it's likely part of what's rubbing independents the wrong way.

What do independents want?

They like their institutions non-partisan, including Cable TV news.

Left-leaning MSNBC scored seven points less favorably among these voters than in the poll pool at large. For right-leaning Fox News, the gap was a whopping 21 points.

And politicians who come off as ideologically extreme don't sell well with the independents.

A recent poll shows how independents differ from Democrats and Republicans. CBS Boston

Trump-aligned MAGA Republicans are underwater with all voters by 3%, by 18% with this crucial voter group. Left-wing icon Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Independents are nearly twice as likely to have an unfavorable take on her.

And the major-party candidates? Indie voters broke for Biden in 2020, but this poll has him underwater by 15 points with them this time around, worse than his poor overall favorability.

But Trump has work to do here, as well: His unfavorable rating with this crucial voter group isn't much better than Biden's.

What's the key to winning over these voters in the fall?

Next time you hear Biden or Trump giving their pitch, take note of how hard they both work to paint the other side as "extreme." That is a word that really turns off independents, and making it stick to your opponent is a crucial step for either side.

And you'd better have a good plan for reaching them directly through targeted advertising or direct outreach on the ground. If they watch the party conventions at all, it will be with severe skepticism.  

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