An Independent Voter Responds to the Claim He Is a Myth

It is not the first time someone has published an article online about the subject, but recently The Daily Beast published an editorial by Jamelle Bouie called, There Are No “True” Independent Voters in American Politics. It is not uncommon for a partisan to dismiss independent and independent-minded voters as “myths.”

“Just in case you’re tempted to talk about the prospects for “independent” candidates, remember that most voters—including yourself—are partisans.”

The defining characteristic of an independent-minded voter is just that — they are independent-minded. There are many people who want to try to tell people who they are or aren’t, and what they believe. It is irresponsible to tell someone that regardless of what they believe about themselves, they are actually something else.

“In short, most people who identify as “independent”—29 percent in the 2012 election—lean towards one party or another and vote accordingly. The large majority of Republican-leaning independents vote for Republicans, and the large majority of Democratic-leaning independents vote for Democrats.”

Bouie defines “independent voter” as someone “who, without bias, evaluates the claims of both sides and makes a decision.” I define “independent” as people, positions, or information not dictated by a partisan point of view. An independent is human, and necessarily biased. What makes the independent voter different is that a party doesn’t tell him or her what his or her biases are.

This aside, under his definition, an independent-minded voter does not have to be completely unaffiliated with a political party. Registered Republicans and Democrats can be independent voters.

However, in an electoral system where voters are told they only have two choices and are led to believe that if they go outside the two party system they are wasting their vote, many voters are likely to lean one way or another. The system forces voters into two categories and yes, voters are going to vote for the person who most closely aligns with their own political philosophy.

Forty-seven states have partisan primaries where independents are not allowed to vote or are forced to affiliate with the Republican Party or Democratic Party to participate in the primary process — the pivotal first step for choosing an elected official. This not only violates the right every eligible citizen has to a meaningful vote, but violates their First Amendment right of association.

Bouie cites the results of the 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia as evidence that independent voters do not exist because independent voters, according to him, are only so if they vote for a third party or independent candidate:

Were voters unhappy with the state of the commonwealth? Yes. Were they disgusted with their choices? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, Republicans voted for Ken Cuccinelli, Democrats voted for Terry McAuliffe, and almost no one supported the independent challenger, Robert Sarvis.

Apparently 7 percent of the electorate is almost no one, but people should also remember that Sarvis was the most successful third party candidate in Virginia in 50 years. There were public opinion polls that had him in double digits among voters and this is without the money the major parties funneled in for their own candidates or attention from the press — which evidence shows is a key player in driving public perception.

If anything, Bouie did not succeed in disproving the existence of independent voters, but he did raise a big problem with the current electoral system. Many voters were disgusted with their choices, especially with how ugly that race turned, but many voters didn’t have a say on who was going to be on the general election ballot. In fact, using Bouie’s words, almost no one had a say. Terry McAuliffe ran unopposed and Ken Cuccinelli was chosen by GOP delegates in a state convention.

Voters, even voters affiliated with the two major parties, were denied a meaningful vote. Perhaps, this is what we should focus on.