Here’s a head-scratcher for you:
Official voter registration records in at least 29 states show significant numbers of people registering to vote as political Independents, or who decline to declare a political party affiliation. Opinion polls, at least those of the Gallup organization, consistently list three political groups, Republicans, Democrats and political Independents, responding to their survey questions. Nightly news—on all stations and/or channels, periodicals and newspapers speak and write about them; elections are said to hinge on their “swing vote” and both political parties design their campaigns to attract them. Today, most everyone has heard that Independents represent a plurality of all registered voters; that means they may not represent a majority, but they do represent more voters than either of the two parties! But all this considered, here’s the funny part:
We’re told that they don’t really exist! No, the experts tell us, “Most Independents are in fact ‘closet’ Republicans or Democrats.” And in support of this they refer to the voting records come election time: Look at the vote-counts; look at the returns for Republicans, Democrats and Others (Independents and/or third-parties). At the polls, most all those Independents lined up behind either Democrats or Republicans, didn’t they? Well, the answer to that rather disingenuous politically self-serving rationalization is, yes, but what other practical option did they have? “Practical option” here means electorally we’re a first-past-the-post, winner take all two party system.
Look closely at what these two Parties are purported to represent: conservative and liberal social, economic and political values. The proof of the pudding as to how well they are doing in this representation is expressed clearly in the public’s following of them; that also translates into what the citizenry thinks of the governments for which between them they have the responsibility. How the public registers to vote says more about their disappointing failure here than do the actual results at the polls. Party registration is an expression of faith, trust and satisfaction. Voting, on the other hand, is simply a response to what is offered as a choice, take it or leave it. For most Independents, voting today represents a least-worst choice situation.
It’s true that most Independents “lean” towards one or the other of the Parties. That does not in and of itself make them Republicans or Democrats, as we are led to believe, any more than standing in your garage makes you a car! They lean towards these Parties simply because they are either conservatives or liberals and these two represent, for all but the most extreme or radical, the political option that aligns closest with their values, like or agree with the Party’s approach, tactics, policies or not. It’s a least-worst scenario.
This political/electoral situation is a poor demonstration of effective representative democracy. At the same time, unfortunately, it’s a good example of (relatively) benign political subjugation. A plurality of American voters apparently would prefer not to vote for either the Republicans or the Democrats, but today these unaligned Conservatives and Liberals have no other practical choice. That’s the unfortunate reality, like it or not. Our political/electoral system is a good one, at least for us. But it has the fault of great difficulty of correction if and when the dominant political movements cease to satisfactorily represent most of the people most of the time, let alone all of the time.
So, what’s the answer here? How do we reestablish our political representation such that it (if it ever did) satisfactorily represents most of the people at least most of the time? We all know you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable that, in common cause, America’s dueling political parties should act in a manner that, obviously, promotes their own partisan approach to governing while respecting the fact that theirs is—in both cases—a minority preference. Either they can make this happen, which should change the results of government—significantly, or if between the Republicans and Democrats this is simply not a possibility due to the influence of ideological extremism in both parties, then we must look for a solution outside these two conflicted political crusaders.
Today the principal issue isn’t partisanship, per se, but extreme ideology. If those designated to lead our parties cannot grasp this political reality, the future for these parties is an ever shrinking following. They will simply cease to represent the people. Then what? As mentioned, under our electoral system change is difficult, but note, please, not impossible! It can happen and I have little doubt that in my lifetime it may well, and I’m not what you would refer to as a “young buck” any longer.
Political Independents today are a discontented but unorganized national “political crowd.” However, this could change, and once initiated, could change faster than most imagine. Americans want responsible, democratic political change. They want government that represents at least most of the people most if not all of the time; by their own declarations they want a country headed in the right direction. This was exemplified by the 2008 election of Barak Obama. He promised it (change), and we elected him largely on this single issue. Today such change is still out of reach, but surely not out of mind of most Americans.
Political Independents remain a story in search of an author, but they do—absolutely—exist! One of these days leadership is going to sprout, give this unorganized crowd cohesion and bring this apparently like-minded movement to market. It’s a matter of supply and demand, and both the supply of Independents and the demand for change seem to be growing. Critical mass may be closer than most think.
Thomas Richard Harry