The Rise of the Independent Voter

 Independents Rising

 

Ask voters which political party they support these days and chances are they’ll say neither.

Actually, chance has little to do with it.


- October 2012



The Economist recently reported that a record number of Americans and Europeans are refusing to identify with a particular political party.


Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that more Americans called themselves independents than called themselves either Democrats or Republicans in 2011.  In May, Gallup put the percentage of independents at 44.


Bottom line: From polls to pubs, it’s the rise of the independent, as evidenced by a group of gentlemen at a local watering hole with predilections for midday pints and politics.


They were, they declared loudly while clinking glasses of ale to punctuate their point, “proud independents.”


“When neither side is doing the job, it’s time to walk away,” Gentleman 1 said.


“It’s one side blaming the other and vice versa and I’m done with it,” said Gentleman 2.


Gentleman 3 quietly raised his glass in agreement.


One of the biggest and most persistent myths of the moment is that the country is divided by severe partisanship.


That may be the case in Washington or in some state capitals, but in real life, we know better. A growing number of us are finding these traditional labels as ill-fitting as last season’s fashions.


The Committee of Seventy has occupied the increasingly fashionable nonpartisan space for more than a century.  With age comes wisdom and the grace to know that true trendsetters don’t gloat – at least not too much.


Welcome to our world. Let the discussion begin.


Independents are a complicated bunch – as independent thinkers should be.  The going wisdom is that they tend to lean moderately left on social issues and moderately right on economic issues.  But they almost unanimously reject labels.


Of course, that hasn’t stopped a slew of experts from deconstructing the “dissatisfied and disaffected” and trying to pin them down with all sorts of designations.


Post-modern voters (socially progressive, fiscally conservative).  NPR Republicans (fiscally conservative, socially moderate).  America First Democrats.  Facebook voters.  The list goes on.


UC-Irvine political scientist Russell Dalton uses another term to describe this voting bloc.  Dalton refers to these politically astute voters who reject party affiliations as “apartisan.”


At Seventy, we’re a little partial to Dalton’s term. But however people choose to characterize them, here’s what bonds this group: They value compromise over confrontation. And they are tired of negativity.  


They’re not waiting around to be recognized or legitimized by any organized group.  If they want to be heard, they’ll start a blog, a petition --  or a coalition, even.  And they are likely to assert their voices and views on Facebook, Twitter or whatever technological avenue necessary to make sure politicians, pundits and other citizens take notice.


They are not only the 2012 election’s “It” voters, they might very well decide who wins.  The presidential candidates who are courting this independent-minded group know that.


There’s lots of speculation about what is prompting the shift away from party loyalty. Some say it is disgust and dissatisfaction. Others suggest it’s simply apathy.

 

But this is certain – identifying as an independent is now more popular than as Republican or Democrat. Standing on neither side is now preferable than toeing the party line.  Apartisan compromise trumps partisan grandstanding.


We can relate to that. The Committee of Seventy doesn’t endorse candidates.  We refuse to take government money – in part because it comes from partisan politicians.  We don’t even know the political affiliations of the 70 members of our Board of Directors.


We do not endorse ideas or policies or even laws based on partisanship.  We look for common sense answers to public problems.  We use our full-throated voice on behalf of the people of the city, the region and the state.


We stand for fairness, openness, and transparency because no matter the year, the election or the political season, that’s what matters.  And that’s always en vogue.


These words came from legendary columnist James Reston more than 50 years ago:


“The decisive battleground of American politics lies in the center and cannot be captured from either of the extremes, and any party that defies this principle does not improve its chances of national power or even effective opposition, but precisely the opposite.”



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