Volume 6        Number  272      

Independents decide elections and that is why they are so important; they are now the largest voter group in the country and are growing. But they are a shaky group. Many Americans, two-fifths, classify themselves as Independents, but only seven percent don’t lean toward one party or the other. And among that group of truly non-partisans, two-thirds of them didn’t even vote in the 2018 mid-term election.

While the larger group calling themselves independents favor one of the parties, so could be called “somewhat partisan”, their vote is not a sure thing. That’s what makes them independents and so interesting; they tend to lean but are no sure bet in an election.

           graph independents

It’s just like one would imagine. An independent is defined as a voter who votes for candidates on the issues rather than on the basis of political ideology or partisanship. They have no long-standing loyalty to, or identification with, a political party and do not always vote for the same party from election to election.

While professing to be non-partisan, independents are more likely to identify with Democrats, an overall trend in the general population. They feel more negative about political candidates, and about both parties, than partisans do. Accordingly, they are less likely to vote. So while both parties are chasing after independents, they are like a reluctant bride, difficult to catch. A successful candidate like Donald Trump figured out how to appeal to certain independents, which he did, and also how to energize his base to turn out to vote for him, which he also did.

What makes a person favor a political party is interesting. Social scientists have found that the number one reason for partisanship is parenthood. People tend to vote for the political party they heard being praised in their homes while they were growing up. Socialization is another strong factor. People tend to vote like their neighbors, relatives and friends. This is reinforced by the growing homogeneity of where we live. Democrats tend to live on both Coasts and in urban environments. Republicans are more likely to be in the heartland of American and rural areas.

Life cycle is another important factor. Younger people are more likely to be Democrats, and older ones Republicans. There have also been some shifts in recent years, with suburbanites going Democratic, blue collar people going Republican and the more affluent swinging toward Democrats but with the very wealthy still veering toward Republicans.

Independents are more likely to be male, and to lean toward the Democratic Party, also a trend in the overall voting population.

What makes an independent is tricky. To some it is not wanting to be labeled; some of them are partisan but embarrassed admit it; to others it is the “spirit of America,” wanting to be independent following the theme of our country’s birth; others like to think of themselves as free thinkers; still others profess to dislike both parties and the whole political process; there are those who believe being independent makes them “special,” it makes them feel unbiased, and feel they can change the course of history.

The independent’s ideal candidate is younger than most of the leading candidates for office now, except for Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and he is too young. They mostly want someone middle-aged in the 41-49 age group, according to a poll by YouGov Real Time. Gender preference is not a hindrance to a female candidate. However, if he runs again, Pete Buttigieg will have to overcome prejudices against having a homosexual in the White House.

Interestingly, more so than among partisans, they would prefer someone who grew up on a farm (42 percent) for the presidency. That is likely to be wishful thinking– they are not too likely to find another Abraham Lincoln in today’s urbanized society. Independents equally prefer those with military, business, government or legal experience than other occupations. Independents equally favor a candidate who is a political outsider, to one who is well established in the political system. Partisans much prefer a candidate with political experience.

The idea of independents banding together to form a third political party is far fetched. This is because in order for this to happen, people who report they are independent would truly have to believe that neither party represents their interest. As it has been shown, that is not the case. They overwhelmingly prefer one of the major parties. The second reason that mitigates such an action is that they would have to have similar interests to coalesce around the same candidate from election to election. Since they are a splintered group, that seems unlikely.

Reuters/ Ipsos polling shows that independent voters care most about healthcare and jobs as their top issues. This is similar to self-professed Democrats, but this group is more likely to also be concerned about climate change. Tackling the three issues in the 2020 campaign would certainly increase the Democrats’ chances of being elected. Meanwhile, the Republicans are still stuck in the mire concerning border security and reducing government-funded services as their most important issues.

All of this means that independents should be more vulnerable to third party candidates. Indeed, since Ross Perot’s run in the 1992 election, independent candidates have become more numerous. However, they have only served as “spoilers”, as Ralph Nader did in the 2000 election, rather then being able to mount “winnable” campaigns. It is also theorized that independent voters create a more volatile election environment, one in which no candidate is likely to command a mandate. It stands to reason that larger numbers of independents will create more ticket splitting, as voters will become less likely to vote “down the line” for one party. It is thought by some that independents may lead to the very breakdown of our political system. That would be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

“Being independent has nothing to do with being undecided.”

           –Bretton Holmes, Publisher Save & Exit

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