It's an important question to ask when trying to measure the mood of the American electorate. Because even though they might sound like roughly the same thing, both of yesterday's national polls show clear evidence that is this not the case.
In short, those who label themselves 'Independent' lean Republican, while the self-described 'Moderates' do not.
Since Hillary Clinton's low favorability numbers sucked most of the air out of the room yesterday, let's take a look at that measurement among both Independents and Moderates in the ABC News/WP poll. All charts can be found on the respective links:
As you can see, Hillary has an even lower favorability among 'Independents' than the sample as a whole, while the well-named 'Moderates' are about as moderate as it gets with a 49/47 split.
Meanwhile, the Clinton favorability breakdowns in the simultaneous CNN poll match up almost exactly among 'Independents', while the 'Moderates' here are feeling more charitable at 52/44:
Here is the party breakdown of the ABC News/WP poll:
There's no way that the Independents in this poll could be split 50/50 along the ideological spectrum, because if so, Hillary would both be above 50% in favorability and crushing Jeb Bush by double digits. The evidence for a notable rightward lean is even more apparent in the CNN methodology, where Independents actually outnumbered Republicans in the Republican sample!
BASED ON 240 RESPONDENTS WHO DESCRIBE THEMSELVES AS REPUBLICANS AND 243 WHO DESCRIBE THEMSELVES AS INDEPENDENTS WHO LEAN REPUBLICAN, FOR A TOTAL OF 483 REPUBLICANSSimilar numbers are not seen in the Democratic sample, where only about 1/3 of those respondents described themselves as Independent. The sample as a whole includes 52% Independents... a huge number which simple math tells us leans to the right. As already noted, this helps to effectively give the entire poll a 5-point Republican tilt.
It seems as if both pollsters had a hard time finding enough proud Republicans and had to compensate with extra right-leaning Independents. That should come as no surprise: Gallup has been measuring party ID for a while and Republicans have been pretty steadily ditching that label in favor of 'Independent' since early in George W. Bush's second term. However, that doesn't mean their overall voting habits or feelings about Hillary Clinton have really changed all that much.
So beware of anyone in the news media who takes Hillary's numbers among so-called 'Independents' too seriously. And don't be surprised if the results are usually in negative territory from now until election day.
Instead, perhaps it would be more enlightening to pay closer attention to the classic all-American purple 'Moderates'... most likely the real deciders of our next president.