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#ROCKTHEPOLLS: Watching the Independents as They Watch the GOP Convention

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The truest gauge of whether the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was effective in its ability to draw more voters to nominee Donald Trump is found in the minds of independent voters. 

These are the unaffiliated voters. The voters who’ve become completely disenchanted with the two-party machines and decided, for better or for worse, to shed themselves of partisan taint. Yet, despite that, independents hold the still unknown key to this presidential election’s outcome. As Pew Research notes, independent voters are the largest share of the electorate, with 39 percent identifying as such compared to 32 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as Republicans. Any road to the White House is paved with the intentions of independent voters. 

With the presidential race tightening, and the comfortable lead Hillary Clinton once had clearly narrowed, Republicans will ultimately want the messaging in their convention to capture more independents.  Many of those independents also include the 25 percent of voters who remain steadily undecided. The big question post-convention: Did either Republicans or Democrats manage to win over skeptical independents? 

That question is even more pointed for Republicans after a week of intensified melee marked by delegate drama, plagiarism scandals and endorsement refusals. After watching Republicans lose their cool all week, independents must decide what risks they’re willing to take. They must also decide if Republican policy positions were persuasive enough … or if they were satisfied with days of burning Hillary Clinton in rhetorical effigy over Benghazi and emails.  Optically, did Republicans look White House ready? Or, did days of red-meat throwing and conspiracy theorizing amount to just enough electoral turn-off?  

Heading into Cleveland, the battle for independents is close.  In a recent YouGov poll, Clinton and Trump unfavorable ratings among independents is tied – but, Clinton should worry about an 11-point independent voter enthusiasm gap finding her behind Trump.  Yet, in a two-way race, Clinton bests Trump by just 5 points (as opposed to the 4-way race where she’s barely ahead of Trump by a point).

Still, 21 percent of voters indicated they were mostly voting for Clinton compared to 16 percent for Trump. And the lead among independents for Clinton widens dramatically in the most recent CNN poll, 47 percent to 35 percent.  

But it becomes problematic for Clinton when 12 percent of those independents indicate they could change their mind by November 8th compared to only 6 percent saying the same for Trump. And in a four-way match up, including Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and Green Party’s Jill Stein, it gets thinner, 34 percent for Clinton to 31 percent for Trump. 

CHARLES D. ELLISON is a veteran political strategist and Executive Producer/Host of “The Ellison Report” on WEAA 88.9 FM. He can be reached @ellisonreport on Twitter. 

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