There are independents running in the many 2014 elections, but are the latest partisan failures enough to turn these races in favor of independents? Put differently, is voter dissatisfaction enough to make people change the way they’ve always voted?
To start to think about this, it’s useful to look to an example from another arena – computers.
For years, people have complained about PCs that run Microsoft’s operating system. These PCs have been seen as too expensive, too unreliable, and too difficult to use. Nevertheless, by 2010, Microsoft had more than 90 percent of the PC market, in spite of the fact that Apple had alternative products that many found to be better.
That all began to change when Apple launched the iPad in 2010. Since then, Microsoft’s share of the PC market has plummeted from 90 percent to just over 30 percent today - and it’s shrinking.
There is a lesson here for would-be independent candidates. People don’t change something just because they don’t like it. They do it when they find something that is better, but better isn’t enough. It’s got to be so much better that it is completely clear to the person that they are going to be better off when they make the change. So much better that the cost of making the change is far outweighed by the benefits they get from changing.
And here’s where the problem lies for independents who do not learn this lesson.
Among the political parties, there is no shortage of candidates who are running for office to fulfill some kind of a career ambition. We hear often of candidates who say they are running because they are “ready to lead,” because they want a new challenge, or in some cases, to show voters they learned their lesson from a prior, losing campaign. It’s all very uninspiring – but candidates like this win all the time.
What goes wrong for independents? In my travels around Massachusetts I have had the opportunity to meet quite a few people who have run for various offices as independents. Almost all had lost.They could explain everything that is wrong with the current system, but either could not describe an alternative vision – or had an alternative vision that was some other, new ideology that didn’t interest most voters.
From my many years as part of building a global business (recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing in America for the last 3 years), I learned that success in launching any new endeavor comes from preparation. Preparation – really, truly understanding who you are, what you have to offer, and what the market wants – is the single most important driver of success. From the earliest days of this journey, we have been relentless about finding out what voters are looking for and making sure that what we offer -- what we are about to our core -- is exactly that.
Voters want genuine leadership. They want people in office who think it is important to articulate their vision, to explain why it matters, and to build consensus around solutions. They want leaders who insist on finding the right answers to questions, not the ones that are the easiest, or that let you feel like you’ve solved a problem when you really haven’t. And more than almost anything, voters want to be respected and listened to.
It’s one of the (many) reasons I spend so much of my time out in the field meeting voters across the state. Yes, it’s a way for me to introduce myself to people and share my vision. But, it’s also an invaluable opportunity for me to hear from voters about what they think is important, to test my own assumptions about what is needed, and to start the long process of consensus building that is needed to effectively govern.
People across the state have been enormously generous with their time and insights. I hear them, and it shows with the kind of press coverage we have been getting over the last month of this campaign.
Over the course of this campaign, we’ve been featured in dozens upon dozens of media outlets across the state. In just the last month, I was a guest on NPR, Fox TV, Boston Public Radio, and other, with much more to come. The message of this campaign is starting to have a noticeable impact on the political conversation in our state.
Now, I will let you in on a secret. The reason these organizations are covering my campaign isn’t because it’s an independent campaign. It’s because we’ve got something to say, and I’m speaking for the enormous numbers of voters across my state who feel like they are never heard.
This, I believe, is what we’re seeing nationwide. Voters aren’t just open to pragmatic candidates and innovative third-party alternatives – they’re increasingly demanding them. A recent Gallup poll found a record 60 percent of American voters calling for creation of a third party. And here’s where the huge opportunity to broaden our democracy and increase common-sense solutions comes in.
Viable independent candidates and third parties will be the “new normal.” You’ll see.
Photo Credit: Jason Falchuk / United Independent Party