We all know that a big part of the Republican successes in New Jersey and Virginia last week had to do with Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell's ability to win over independent voters.
I want to go a little deeper than that though, and talk about the differences between McCain independents and Obama independents- and why the latter group will be the most influential voter bloc in next year's elections.
Independents who voted for John McCain are more or less Republican voters who don't call themselves that. In Virginia they voted for McDonnell by an 89-8 margin and in New Jersey they went for Chris Christie by an 88-6 margin. On the generic Congressional ballot for next year they go 70-2 for the GOP in Virginia and 78-3 in New Jersey. These are not your imaginary sort of independents who are centrists and swing from one party to the other on an election by election basis- they are conservative, Republican voters who just don't attach that label to themselves.
The Obama voting independents in New Jersey and Virginia are more of your true swing voters. They only went for Creigh Deeds by a 66-32 margin and their support for Jon Corzine was only 52-24. Looking toward next year they support Democrats 48-24 for Congress in Virginia and 50-11 in New Jersey.
These are the kinds of voters who may be looking for a division of power. Obama's approval with them in Virginia is 67% and in New Jersey it's 75% so Congressional Democrats are running well behind his level of support. The relatively high number of undecideds with them in both states would seem to indicate they aren't enthralled with the Democrats in DC but they aren't real sold on the Republicans either and they're going to vote for whichever side does the better job of winning them over.
The biggest factor in who wins next year will be turnout and which party can mobilize its voters to get out and vote, but if you want to talk about the most persuadable group of the electorate it's the independents who voted for Obama. Their decisions could decide a lot of close races.