In an age where over 90 percent of elections are determined in the primary, it’s a rare occurrence for candidates to focus on voters who are not affiliated with a political party during the general election.
Republican and Democratic party registration across the country has plummeted, and turnout is likely to dip 10-20 percent compared to presidential election years, according to Pew Research. With both of those factors in play, independent voters are primed to have a big impact this year.
Below are the top five races from around the country where independent-minded voters will determine the outcome:
1. Kansas – Senate
The Senate race in Kansas has become a national lightning rod. Press coverage of the race skyrocketed when the Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, dropped out of the race, leaving independent candidate Greg Orman with a slight lead over incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts.
A legal firestorm ensued when Kansas’ Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach, initially opted not to recognize Taylor’s withdrawal — a decision that was seen as politically motivated. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the decision and Taylor won’t appear on the November ballot.
Polls show Orman with an edge over Roberts by as much as 10 points. Likewise, Roberts’ popularity has been waning in recent years. His approval rating stands at approximately 27 percent.
If his campaign is successful, Greg Orman would become the third Independent in the U.S. Senate. The last time more than two non-major party candidates held the Senate floor together was in 1940.
2. Georgia – Governor
In a state that is historically conservative, a growing demographic shift in the electorate and peculiar election circumstances have sewn the seeds for a highly competitive November election between incumbent Republican Nathan Deal and Democratic State Senator Jason Carter.
Carter, who has bucked the Democratic Party’s traditional line on issues like gun control and the Affordable Care Act, is in a dead heat with Governor Deal — each border on 43 and 45 percent in polls. The Peach State’s closed party primary system advanced Libertarian Andrew Hunt to November as well.
Hunt has consistently polled near 6 percent and has drawn the support of Deal’s primary election opponent, former Dalton mayor David Pennington.
3. California – Congressional District 52
Congressional District 52, located in San Diego, is shaping up as one of the most competitive in the country. Incumbent U.S. Representative Scott Peters defeated his Republican challenger and former U.S. Rep. Brian Billbray by less than two percent.
California’s nonpartisan, top-two primary, held in June, resulted with Peters in first place at 42 percent and Republican Carl DeMaio in second with 35 percent.
DeMaio, a former city council member and 2012 candidate for San Diego mayor, paints himself as a ‘Big Tent’ conservative. He has emphasized socially tolerant policies and if elected, would be the first openly gay Republican congressman.
In a September interview for IVN, DeMaio said, “This is a seat that reflects the future of America and that is that we are fiscally responsible and socially accepting.”
“I think I’m a candidate that fits this district,” he added.
Peters has campaigned on his record of working across the aisle with Republicans like U.S. Reps. Darrel Issa and Duncan Hunter. Both campaigns have traded jabs in recent weeks and as Election Day draws closer, competition for the district’s independent voters (about 112,000 voters — or 30% of the electorate — according to the secretary of state) will continue to heat up.
4. Colorado – Governor
Colorado’s gubernatorial race features a handful of candidates, all vying for the state’s top office. Governor John Hickenlooper (D) and U.S. Representative Bob Beuprez (R) are neck-and-neck in the polls — often within 5 percent of one another.
However, three other candidates will appear on the November ballot: Libertarian Mathew Hess, Green Party candidate Harry Hempy, and Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon and Paul Florino are running with no party affiliation as Independents.
When it comes to independent politicians, Mike Dunafon is in a league of his own. He’s the only gubernatorial candidate in the country with a campaign rap video, which features Wyclef Jean, and maintains a larger social media following than all of his opponents combined.
While the non-major party candidates haven’t built much traction in the polls, they are leaving their mark on the race. The front-runners’ attitudes on Colorado’s recent legalization of marijuana has the potential to turn off voters who would have otherwise turned out in November.
Chances are the election will be decided within a tight margin and candidates like the pro-legalization Dunafon could make or break who becomes the next governor.
5. Oregon – Measure 90
Two measures to open up Oregon’s closed primary elections were put forward earlier this year. In July, only one advanced to appear on the November ballot — Measure 90.
Measure 90 would change the Beaver State’s closed partisan primary system into a nonpartisan, top-two open primary. It would be similar to the primary systems in neighboring California and Washington state with a few key differences:
- Party endorsements will appear on the ballot next to their endorsed candidate
- Requires more information be provided to voters on the ballot
- Oregon’s current use of fusion voting, which allows multiple parties to nominate one candidate, will remain unchanged
If Measure 90 passes, Oregon’s 650,000 independent voters will have a chance to participate in the primary election for the first time without sacrificing their First Amendment right to non-association.