Independent voters are the canaries in the coal mine of American politics, telling a leader whether the air is safe or starting to fill up with some toxic gases.
Bearing that in mind, President Barack Obama and his team ought to start worrying about the health of those canaries.
While the president remains broadly popular, his standing has eroded noticeably among political independents in recent weeks. That slide, among a set of citizens central to Mr. Obama's sizable victory in last year's election, means he has reached a politically hazardous juncture at the midpoint of his first, exceptionally hectic year.
Hmm, what could they be thinking about?
In particular, the survey suggests, independents are developing gnawing fears about government spending. They are markedly more worried about the federal budget deficit as an economic issue than are Americans in general, and they are more likely to be skeptical of Mr. Obama's plan for a health-care overhaul.
Worried about deficits? Who'd a thunk it after the $ bazillion stimulus plan and the $ cajillion budget. Well, fiscal conservatives would have - but now independents are as well.
Above all, though, independents are starting to simply view the president as more liberal than they expected. The share of independents who say Mr. Obama is a liberal has risen to a substantial 64% from 46% two months ago. A large portion of them actually classify him as "very liberal." That's a particular problem because independents tend to view themselves as center-right -- 78% call themselves moderate or conservative -- so they see a president moving to the left of where they are.
He's a liberal??!?!? Get the frak outta here!! Wow, it's too bad he didn't have a voting record or some other history to examine that might have indicated he was indeed a liberal.
Ok, enough with my sarcasm - I'm glad independents are starting to wake up. It's just too bad they didn't do it before the election, when the current insanity could have been stopped.