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30 Reasons Why Independent Voters Are Not a Myth

by Jane Susskind, published

Political scientists and party pollsters run with a common narrative: Independent voters are a myth.

"We think of them as closet partisans who act in almost indistinguishable ways to those who identify as partisans," Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth explains in a recent National Journal article.

There is a group of independent voters, however, that defy this reasoning. Here are the top 30 reasons why, despite the partisan narrative, independent voters are not a myth:

1. Forty percent of Americans now identify as independents.

2. It is statistically proven that independents do not just vote for one party, debunking the myth that they are all "closet partisans."

3. Even Independent "leaners" (independents who lean towards one of the two major parties) do not vote along party lines. In 2000, 73 percent of Democratic-leaning Independents voted for a Democrat, American National Elections Studies (ANES) reports. Taken at face value, this statistic seems to support the argument that Independent voters are a myth.

But, compare it to the voting pattern of these same voters in 2002, in which the number of Democratic leaners voting for their party had dropped to 54 percent, and 2004, in which 38 percent of Democratic leaners were now GOP voters. This shows that independent leaners are not party loyalists.

4. "What do you call someone who is largely fiscally conservative, but understands the need for government spending when it benefits most of us at large?" - Mike Morrato, Facebook 

5. The number of non-affiliated voters in Oregon just reached half a million.

6. Leaning toward one party's stance on a majority of issues while recognizing that the two parties have unfair advantages in the political system doesn't make one a partisan.

7. The argument that independent voters are a myth is rooted in the belief that when asked about party preference, these voters will admit to preferring one party or another. This assumption ignores that in the 28 states with closed or semi-closed primaries, Independents have no choice but to identify with one party if they want to exercise their fundamental right to vote in the primary election.

8. "Just because someone may identify with the general ideology of the "left" or the "right" doesn't mean they support all of the policies of the Democrats or Republicans or wish to identify with party politics at all."- Tracy Hutchinson, Facebook 

9. Independent voters exceed party registration in 5 key states.

10. While independents can lean towards one party, they are much more likely to switch their preferences over time. Third Way released analysis on an ANES study that followed the same voters over 3 successive elections and found that "Independent Leaners were significantly more likely to switch their party identification than were those who described themselves as Democrats or Republicans."

11. Example: "In 2008 I voted for McCain in 2012 I voted for Obama. I voted that way because I believed at the time I voted I was voting for the best candidate." - Melissa Ruede, Facebook

12. Just because the mainstream media reports the issues through a red vs. blue lens, doesn't mean other viewpoints don't exist. When all the issues that are polled are pre-divided along party lines, the questions predetermine a two-sided result.

13. The premise of the argument "Independent Voters are a myth" is grounded in polling information, but independents by definition cannot be grouped. Researchers, pollsters, and political scientists try to define and group the "center" or "independent voter," because that's their job, but "independent voters are more diverse in age, race, gender and income than Republican and Democratic voters."


15. "As the parties are drawn to the extremes, more and more moderates are left with no party with which to identify. Perhaps at one time they could have made this assertion, but certainly not in today's political climate." - Erik McCormick, Facebook 

16. Non-affiliated or no party preference voters comprise about 37 percent of all registered voters in Maine.

17. "Being truly independent is simply a thought process. It's not about voting only for independent candidates, it's about judging for yourself - without bias - which candidate best suits the times in which we're living." - Steve Cox, Facebook

18. Voters who vote based on a candidate's voting record, not party affiliation, are not a myth.

19. "The politicos are afraid of independents because we don't accept everything that a particular party dictates. We tend to vote for the person and and we are careful about what issues they prioritize. We tend to stay in the middle, neither too far right or left." - Sylvia Rinell, Facebook

20. New Jersey is home to 2.6 million independent voters.

21. "Then I guess the 'swing vote' is a myth too? So next election it will be a myth as to why whoever was elected? It's not partisanship, it's being educated on the bigger picture." - Kristin Wiliamson, Facebook

22. A common misconception is that "real" independent voters must vote for independent candidates. This misrepresents what it means to be an independent-minded voter. The defining element of an independent voter is not that he or she votes for independent candidates, but rather that he or she is not confined to one party's ideology. Their decisions are not rooted in partisan labels, but are constructed based on research and can lead these voters to support Republican, Democratic, or Third Party candidates.

23. "My positions are not based on the ideologies of political parties. They are based on a longing for effective and decent solutions to the problems faced by the American people." - Malaki Seku-Amen, Facebook

24. Over 52 percent of Massachusetts voters are independent and unaffiliated.

25. "What do you call someone who understand and agrees with social programs but wants them reformed, streamlined and certainly limited in scope?" - Mike Morrato, Facebook 

26. According to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans believe that Republicans and Democratic parties do "such a poor job that a third major party is needed."

27. But not all independents want a third party. "Some of them think we do need a third- or multi-party system and consistently vote for outsider and third-party candidates, while others accept that this is a two-party nation," the Washington Post argues.

28. Non-affiliated and undeclared voters consist of 53 percent of the electorate in Alaska.

29. "There are plenty of independent voters. The problem is, in order to be counted as such, according to most political scientists and pundits, one must actually be registered as independent. The problem with that is that registering as an independent in most states does nothing other than limit one's participation in the political process. Therefore, the majority of intelligent, literally independent voters are actually registered with a party, and thus not included when talking about independent voters."

- Justin Moultrop, Facebook

30. It is unreasonable to expect those who self-identify as independent voters to be completely void of partisanship when the system they are trying to participate in is more partisan than ever


So stop trying to group independent voters into defined categories so you can "poll" them. The reason voters are increasingly leaving the two parties is because their beliefs do not neatly fit into one party's platform or another. That doesn't mean independent voters -- those who vote based on issues not affiliation -- don't exist.

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