It's hip to be an Independent. Linda Killian identifies at least 4 types of Independent voters. She has fun with monikers, tabbing The Facebook Generation and Starbuck Moms and Dads, which you could probably lump into a group of iVoters, with their affinity for iphones and ipads. One assumes these iVoters to be largely Democratic, but probably also voted for independent candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
Her other two types were NPR Republicans, who watch NPR and still affiliate themselves with Nelson Rockefeller. This must be a dying breed, as there are probably very few left who know who he was, much less watch NPR. Lastly, America First Democrats, those who were lured by Reaganomics and still believe it would work if only the right guy was in the White House. These two groups most likely voted for Romney, as Obama clearly wasn't their man. A small number might have gone with Gary Johnson, as he ran as a Libertarian, which is closest to their way of thinking. If Ron Paul had run as an Independent, they most likely would have voted for him.
I'm sure you could break Independents down further if you liked. Guys like Virgil Goode, who ran as a Constitution Party candidate, and Rocky Anderson, who represented the Justice Party, were basically disgruntled Teabaggers who couldn't bring themselves to accept Romney.
You also have the Socialist Party headed by Stewart Alexander, and the Socialism and Liberation Party headed by Peta Lindsay, a 28-year old activist based out of San Francisco, who may feed into the fringes of the Facebook Generation, but given her ideological views probably considers Facebook nothing more than a bourgeois tool used to placate the masses. Besides, she couldn't have served anyway, as she didn't meet the minimum age requirement of 35. Better luck in 2020, Peta.
It's nice to see that these far left and far right groups actually exist and get votes in national elections, but when you get down to brass tacks, you have two types of Independents -- disgruntled Democrats and disgruntled Republicans -- who hold their nose each election and vote for the Democrat or the Republican of their choice, and don't tell anyone afterward.
Like it or not this is a two-party system and both parties do a pretty good job of keeping it that way, by absorbing just enough from the left or right of their political spectrum to assuage most disgruntled voters. An election is decided not by the Independent voter per se, as it is the Democrats' or the Republicans' ability to reach those disaffected voters, often to the left or right of their parties, as these persons would otherwise sit home for the election.
Obama basically won a battle of attrition in 2012, getting 3.5 million less votes than he did in 2008, but fortunately for him, Romney only got 1 million more votes than McCain. These lost votes were those who stayed home, not switched to Romney, as the overall turnout was 3 per cent less. This should be a lesson to any Democrat running for high office, as it illustrates the importance of mobilizing the base of the party, not playing to the middle with the hope of attracting disgruntled Republicans. They won't vote for you.
Republicans realize this, which is why they continue to cater to the Tea Party, because they know this is their base come election time. What they hope for each election is that Democrats will stay home, so Republican governors and legislatures in key states try to create as many barriers as they can with Voter ID laws and cutting back on early voting, in an effort to keep Democrats away from the polls.
The number of truly Independent voters are very few, and have a set of core beliefs that keep them from joining the Republicans or Democrats. Someone like Peta Lindsay isn't going to vote for a Democrat, but the Socialist and Liberation Party only got 8000 votes.
The Tea Party would like to think of itself as Independent, but what they have done is conduct a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, "teabagging" incumbents who they consider Republican in name only, or RINO's, but their influence is rapidly fading. Surprisingly, no such movement has emerged in the Democratic Party.
Occasionally, a troublesome candidate like John Anderson or Ross Perot emerges that cuts into the popular vote, and sways the electoral vote in states one way or the other. In both cases, these were disgruntled Republicans who felt their party had lost its way and needed to be taught a lesson. Anderson failed in his mission, as Reagan won anyway in 1980. Perot succeeded, as he drove a wedge into the 1992 election, that definitely tipped the electoral vote to Clinton.
In 2000, Ralph Nader was blamed for tipping Florida in George W. Bush's favor by pulling a small but significant number of votes away from Al Gore. However, had Gore won his home state of Tennessee, Florida wouldn't have figured into the election.
While there is widespread dissatisfaction, it is very unlikely we will see a rise in a viable third party. The period of shifting political parties was part of our antebellum past. Ever since the Civil War, it has come down to a Democrat or Republican each and each election. To register as an Independent, as many do, freezes you out of the primary voting process, which Teabaggers realized, maintaining their Republican registration. Being an Independent is essentially a cop out, especially if all you do is complain what a "loser" you got out of the primary process.
Call them what you will, but it is pretty easy to identify who these "Independents" are and not worry about this mythical faction of voters. All you have to do is look at the numbers and see that they are pretty evenly split between disgruntled Democrats and Republicans, with only a handful who chose to go their own way.