Over the last 25 years, control of the House has flipped three times, and the party that won independents was the party that captured the majority. In 1994, Republicans wrested control by achieving a 14-percentage-point advantage among these voters. In 2006, Democrats won independents by 18 points and took over the House. The tables turned again in 2010 when Republicans won independent voters by 19 points, according to research by Dave Winston, a Republican strategist. "The difference between a GOP victory and a GOP loss wasn’t base turnout,” he said. “It was Republicans’ ability or inability to win independents.”
In 2016, independents were one of the decisive factors that swung the presidential election to Donald Trump. While under-reported, Trump carried these voters over Hillary Clinton, 46 percent to 42 percent. In many battleground states, Trump handily won independents by double digits, including Michigan (+16), Wisconsin (+10) and North Carolina (+16).
According to the recent Reuters/Ipsos nationwide online tracking poll, these voters give Trump a 38 percent approval rating, a slightly lower number than his national average of 41 percent (the RCP national average is 43.3 percent). However, independents are favoring the Democrats by 41 percent to 21 percent on the generic ballot, which asks respondents which party they support for Congress. “For the last few months, the generic ballot has been consistently trending in the Democrats’ direction, but independent voters are more volatile, not heavily engaged in the process and tend to be last-minute, late deciders,” said Chris Jackson, director of public polling at Ipsos. He added, “In the last few elections, independents have been evenly split or lean[ed] Republican.”
With the election less than a month away, independent voters are starting to tune in. Accordingly, the GOP is trying to cultivate a national message to capture these voters by contrasting Trump’s accomplishments and ideas with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s agenda. “Independent voters don’t like Nancy Pelosi. She has a worse job approval rating than President Trump,” said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster. “Voters are going to see a campaign to stop Pelosi from becoming speaker. Her agenda is higher taxes, socialized medicine, open borders, sanctuary cities and more regulations.”