A new ABC poll shows that more independent voters favor President Obama than GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
"Among all independents, Obama's favorability rating is now 16 points higher than Romney's (53 percent vs. 37 percent)," according to ABC. "At the same time, that narrows among independents who are registered to vote -- 46 percent favorable for Obama, 38 percent for Romney -- indicating, among other factors, the potential importance of voter registration drives in the few months ahead."
Are these voters truly independent or just secretive party leaners?
Pollsters and political strategists often argue that a sighting of a true independent is as rare as seeing Big Foot. That just isn't true, said Linda Killian, a Washington journalist and senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, on The Daily Circuit Wednesday.
"If that were true, why would we even have campaigns?" Killian said. "We would just have 'get out the vote' efforts for our bases. They know there are independents, and that's why so much attention is spent on the swing states because they decide elections."
About 85 to 90 percent of Republicans and Democrats will vote for their candidate, Killian said. About 40 percent of registered voters who consider themselves undeclared, independent or unaffiliated are considered "leaners" who typically vote for one party or the other.
So that leaves the center up for grabs in November, she said.
"There are large segments of the population, the voting population in particular, that find it hard to settle into one camp or the other across the range of issues as the parties themselves change on same-sex marriage, immigration and other issues," said Jon Cohen, director of polling at The Washington Post, on The Daily Circuit.
Although the country's independent voters do have political leanings, that doesn't mean they should be discounted as partisans in disguise.
"That doesn't mean that their espousal of the independent label has no meaning," he said. "They may want both sides to compromise."
People who identify as independents are more likely to look for compromises between parties, Cohen said.
Victor in Rochester said he considers himself an independent.
"I'm not going to vote Republican or Democrat because I want to find the independent and give them the encouragement," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, I throw my vote away with the Republicans or the Democrats. I have a voice when I go independent. I find somebody who is trying to say something unique and encourage that person with my vote."
Cohen said it's important to look at the unaffiliated voting bloc as a changing set of people in each election. If they swing wildly in one direction, it doesn't mean those voters drastically changed their beliefs.
In 2010, 38 percent of independent and undeclared voters who showed up at the polls considered themselves conservatives, he said. That was the highest percentage of independent voters calling themselves conservative in a House race since 1976.
"The independents that show up at the polls year to year aren't always the same independents, and so we can't necessarily say that some big group had changed their mind," Cohen said.
On Facebook, David Dayhoff said focusing on Independents as leaners misses the point.
"Independents don't get choices that are ideal to them," he wrote. "They often end up leaning one way or the other but that doesn't mean they aren't truly something else. It's like offering someone a choice between sausage or pepperoni pizza when their favorite is extra cheese. Faced with that choice they may lean pepperoni, but they really truly crave extra cheese."
Join the conversation on Facebook.