Why 2014 is the Year of the Independent Voter

Republican consultants, commentators, and politicians are confident their party will gain control of the U.S. Senate after the dust settles and the smoke clears on November 4. Democrats, likewise, are confident they will retain control of the upper chamber. However, looking at 2014 elections nationwide, it is clear the focus should not just be on the battle for the U.S. Senate.

Democrats are leading in states that are still considered solid red states, Republicans are leading in Democratic strongholds, and independent candidates are redefining how we look at the electoral and political landscape in the U.S. By its very definition, there is one word that can appropriately describe the 2014 midterm elections: chaos.

In Alaska, a former Republican, running as an independent, has teamed up with a Democrat to change the makeup of the state’s executive branch.

In Georgia, a state that is still colored red on electoral maps, Democrat Michelle Nunn has a slight lead in the U.S. Senate race in statewide surveys and Democrat Jason Carter is in a tight race with incumbent Republican Governor Nathan Deal.

In Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker is now leading state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) despite the fact that incumbent U.S. Senator Ed Markey has a 23-point lead on his Republican challenger and Democrats overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans in voter registration.

In Kansas, a state that has elected Republican senators since 1938, the power of incumbency is not helping U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, who is trailing in the polls behind independent candidate Greg Orman.

In races nationwide, a trend is emerging. The growing number of voters who either self-indetify as independent of the Republican and Democratic parties, or choose not to register with either major party, are shaping the outcome of all these races.

According to a recent poll published by the Boston Globe, Charlie Baker has a 9-point lead over his Democratic opponent — a surprisingly comfortable lead for a Republican in Massachusetts. While many political analysts like to think of Massachusetts as a sold blue state, they ignore the fact that a majority of voters are actually not registered with any party, and it is Baker’s popularity with independent voters that is giving him an advantage in the gubernatorial race, something Politico acknowledged in a recent article.

On Thursday, October 23, Rasmussen published a new poll that shows Greg Orman with a 5-point lead on Sen. Roberts. The race has worried so many people focused only on which party will have control over the Senate that some commentators have accused Orman of not having political convictions because he will not commit to supporting one of the two major parties if he wins. Some have gone so far as to call independent voters who support him dumb.

However, it seems Kansas voters are simply not happy with the Republican incumbents up for re-election in statewide races. Governor Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, both Republicans, are also facing tough re-election challenges. Things really started to turn against Kobach after his political maneuvering in the U.S. Senate race to keep Democrat Chad Taylor in the race to split the anti-incumbent vote.

Ultimately, states that were once considered solid red or blue actually have a deeper shade of purple in them, and it is time more people start acknowledging this. Politicos can no longer look at voters in these states or the national electorate as a whole through traditional partisan lenses — even if the mainstream media and partisan political commentators want to maintain the “red-versus-blue” paradigm that once easily defined the electoral landscape in the U.S.

This model is now outdated and it is time the media, analysts, commentators, and politicians re-evalutae how they look at politics in America.

While both major parties are insisting that the end of America will come if the other side wins control of the Senate, voters who reject both major parties are going to shape the outcome of the 2014 midterms. While it may or may not be the year of the independent candidate, it is the year of the independent voter.

Photo Credit: Peeradach Rattanakoses / shutterstock.com

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