I'm wondering though, and it's a theory, does this mean that if somebody types in "white feline", that Google pre Panda suggested and gave priority to those sites specific to "white feline", whereas now Google says okay, this site is about cats, and is a good site, so we will put them above that specific "white feline" site? Make sense? It may explain the impact of Panda on some sites. So if there were 100 sites pre Panda that Google would really look at, with the loosening of keyword importance, does that number suddenly change from 100 choices to 1000 or 100000? Your chances of competing in competitive areas pre Panda may just have another 1000 contestants for that exact keyword or phrase. If synonym importance in Google has changed, then that tells me keywords and keyword phrases just took a serious kick in the nuts.
I think to figure out intent, people could use quotes "" on their search. That pretty much should spank them on the rear as to say this is what I want an not this synonym results. Make sense? My point is though Google addressed intent but the drop down suggestions which you cannot turn off.
So to summarize, if synonym is or are the new keywords as it were, then instead of 100 people going for that organic traffic, there is likely 1000x that number now. I personally think that there is something very substantial in this and it's making a lot of sense to me as to what's happened and is happening in terms of rankings.
If you type your search without quotes, notice results. Put it in quotes and then see the complete flip flop results. It says to me that more than ever, what you type into Google is less important than it used to be. It's like you enter the interpretation machine and then get the results. The machine isn't working well for me but perhaps it's going to get smarter in the coming months. If Google isn't listening to the keywords as loudly then chances are as a searcher you're going to be missing out on a vast number of expert niche websites that were once top rankers.