A Political Independent is, ah, is a. . . ?

The American Family Gazette

Vol II,  0610

 

Just what do we mean, a political Independent?  Most people would say they know, but do they, really?  Do you?

Technically, an Independent is anyone who, when registering to vote, declares him or herself as “politically independent”, or who declines to indicate a political preference. It’s that simple: a self-declaration.  Just what does registering oneself as a political independent really indicate, or signify, or—better yet— imply?  It must mean something, or else, why do it?

Still, technically, that’s it; end of story. Independents represent one of several classifications of voters.  It’s another one of those statistical things we do to measure things:  so many Americans are (or prefer) democrats, so many are (or prefer) republicans, so many are supporters of minor parties, and so many people are, or say they are, politically Independent. Now, here’s the kicker: Electorally, the only technical significance of being an Independent is voting in primary elections, in most states. Come general election time, anyone can vote for whomever they please, without regard to party affiliation.

So then, why all the attention paid to Independents by the parties and the media? (Are you ready for this?)  Because both major political parties are minority parties!  Only about 28 to 34% of voters regularly and consistently say they support either party! Today about 38- 40% say they are Independents; people who say they prefer neither party.  Independents are those most often referred to as “swing voters” that decide elections. That’s why Independents are significant in politics today; why they are important to both parties:  they need them to win.

But is that all Independent voters are, a “swing-vote?”  Voters who a) have no ideological preference or b) simply can’t make up their mind until the last minute?  In some instances, probably, but they make up a small minority of Independents, according to most research. What is the majority? They are conservative and liberally inclined voters, just like the rest of us. Then, why don’t they register accordingly, like the rest of us? Most do vote “just like the rest of us”, that is for the party that represents conservatism, Republican, or that represents liberalism (in the American sense), Democrats, even if they don’t wish to declare such as their political preference. Strange:  They don’t want to openly declare themselves for these parties, but they (most of them) generally end up voting for them?  Yes, that seems to be the case.  But the parties’ candidates have to work to persuade them in most instances.  And in not just a few instances, Independents do cross the ideological lines when convinced that one individual candidate may be more preferable than another.  And that is why the Parties and the media pay so much attention to them. It’s also why candidates tend to appear ideological in primaries but moderate (or centrist) in general elections.

But in this Independent’s thinking, we represent a lot more than just a technical electoral classification. We are the unavoidable—and growing— evidence that today’s two dominant political parties are failing in their attempts to govern in a manner acceptable to a plurality of American voters. Some 38-40% of voters have not cease being ideological conservatives or liberals, or some amalgamation thereof.  It is the Parties what have stopped governing in a manner acceptable to these voters. They disappoint; no matter their campaign commitments, they disappoint. That, for a preponderance of Independents must be why they are, politically, what they are: Independent of the party(s) that fail to live up to either promises or expectations.  So why should we (how
can we) continue to indicate we support such failed efforts? They have apparently ceased representing “us.” How else can we express our dissatisfaction with them, but to discard our Republican/Democratic association. We do not support them!

But, the professionals and academics will point out, most independents end up voting for one party or the other; in fact, surveys show that most independents “lean” more toward one ideology than the other, and usually vote accordingly.  This is to be expected.  Independents have not ceased to have political inclinations. That they are not happy with the party supposedly representing their ideology may estrange them from the party, but not from their political inclinations. Come Election Day, many, perhaps most, vote for these two parties simply because they have no pragmatic (or ideological) alternative; they have no choice. It is on this point that the two Parties both attempt to appear to “move to the middle of the political spectrum” to seduce these dissatisfied voters; convince them that their game and game plan is superior to their opponents.  But such tactics are for campaign purposes only.  They have no intention of representing Independents.  And after the election, independents find they have been used, and politically abused yet again.  There is no chair for Independents or representation in the government they helped elect.  They continue politically voiceless and, to the parties, invisible, between elections. But, as I said, what choice come election day do independents have?

This point of political dominance by two aging and ideologically narrowing parties that are seeing their support erode and supporters flee makes a compelling argument for two critical points:  The days of the big-tent parties accommodating most of us is behind us. Secondly, it doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power in Washington, little of substance seems to change for Americans in general.  Too many of us feel that America is on the wrong track; going in the wrong direction; that the country is out of balance, call it what you will. Were there a viable, practical political alternative, many would no doubt reach out for it.  The point: The supply of political options in the political arena no longer satisfies the demand for political choice in the arena.  Independents, and not impossibly others, do not want to vote for or be represented be these two parties, but, today, what choice do they have?  Little, if any, politically speaking.

Well, as free-market-thinkers, why is this?  If supply doesn’t satisfy demand, normally a free market finds a way to satisfy it.  Why not in our political arena? In the past it has happened, and could today. But like many markets, our political arena is far from perfect in its supply/demand operations. There is an existing market infrastructure, a web of historical, legal, regulatory and financial strands that inhibit such normal free market inclinations for change, which tend to promote self-preservation and safe harbor for the Parties.  Thus, attempts to offer real competition to the two party duopoly are high risk, inhibited by these existing market conditions.  It’s not impossible, but it is unlikely under today’s conditions.  By “under today’s conditions” I mean the current status of political Independents. As basically a political classification (a statistic), Independents represent and act only as and by themselves individually.  Still, there may exist—somewhere in time, so to speak— a political philosophy around which Independents might coalesce, given the opportunity, and be the engine for (real) political change. That would, admittedly, require a herculean effort, organizationally and financially. Today, Independents simply don’t count as a voting-bloc politically.  They could, under the right circumstances, but they don’t today.

This could change.  This should change especially if so many Americans continue to perceive that America is on the wrong track, that the country is out of balance and the confidence levels of voters towards their government representatives and the political parties they represent continue at such current pathetic levels.  By these measure, change, real change not simply a different marketing message from the parties, will be a necessity.  When?  How? Can you tell me?

No, better yet, I’ll tell you!  As my old neighborhood minister used to say from his pulpit, “It’s in the Book!”

Thomas Richard Harry
June 2010

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