A dive into independents’ views highlights two basic principles for thinking about their role in the nation’s politics. First, it shows the limits of treating “independents” as a single, centrist political bloc — or even as an ideologically coherent one. Second, however, the poll also shows that independents are still notably different from self-identified partisans in some key ways, and that the issues where they break away from those partisan structures are often critical stress points.

The vast majority of so-called independents, pollsters have consistently found, feel at least some kinship to one party or the other. In CNN’s poll, more than 9 in 10 independents, when asked, said they leaned at least somewhat toward either Democrats or Republicans.

These “leaners” have much more in common with their favored parties than they do with other independents who lean the opposite way. As a case in point, 90% of Democratic-leaning…

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