If President Barack Obama gains the majority of the independent vote in the November election, experts said the votes could be more important than ever before.[/media-credit]

President Barack Obama is leading in support from independent voters in swing states, according to a recent survey.  

The survey, conducted by the moderate Democratic think tank Third Way, found 57 percent of independent swing voters hold a favorable opinion of Obama while 41 percent hold a favorable opinion of Mitt Romney.  

However, more of those polled thought the Republicans would do a better job of handling the economy, the budget deficit and government spending than the president would. Generic congressional Democrats also led Republicans 39 percent to 34 percent among independents overall. 

Michelle Diggles, spokesperson for Third Way, said she believes that independents have their own set of hot button issues. 

“The results of our independents poll indicate that for 2012, the dominant frame on the left and right – tax cuts versus fairness – doesn’t respond to the anxieties of swing state independents,” Diggles said. “[Independents] are worried about the next generation’s ability to compete and want to hear candidates talk about economic opportunity.” 

Fifty-eight percent of independent voters polled also disagree that the next generation of Americans will be able to find good, well-paying jobs.  

The survey of 1,000 self-identified independents who voted in the 2008 presidential election was conducted in 12 states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.  

The margin of error for the full set of independents is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. 

University of Wisconsin professor Donald Downs said he believes independents are more important in elections now than any time in recent history. 

“Independent voters are becoming progressively more and more important,” said Downs, who also serves as an adviser to The Badger Herald. “More voters are also identifying themselves as independents.” 

Downs said Wisconsin is a swing state because of its closely divided electorate, which gives independents more sway in the election.

In order to appeal to independents, Downs said candidates must begin balancing their campaigns. 

“The candidates need to find balance in order to appeal to their base,” Downs said. “Romney has already started talking in a moderate way. Obama is going to have to start.” 

UW political science professor Barry Burden said the poll results create a possible dilemma for Democrats.  

He said the party would have to make a strong shift in its issues panel to improve opinion among the survey base.

“The party is inclined to focus on inequality and push things like the ‘Buffett Rule’ to excite the party’s base and appeal to populist centrists,” Burden said. “But this survey indicates that those sorts of messages are not always well received by swing independents.” 

Burden was also somewhat skeptical about the effects of undecided voters in the polling and said there are not that many true independents out there who are also regular voters. 

He said it was much more work for a candidate to win an independent voter’s support and get the person to the polls than it is to simply turn out a dedicated supporter.

“Third Way estimates swing independents to be 15 percent of the population,” he said. “That’s possible, but that estimate depends on some strong assumptions about who is likely to vote.”