These days there’s a lot going on in the world of independent politics. More to the point, it’s now accurate to say that there is a “world” of independent politics.
This is a recent development because, for a long time, the idea that people wanted to be independents, or vote for independents, or run for office as independents, or even think as independents was considered to be a flash-in-the-pan, a form of temporary insanity, unnecessary, or impossible. But an independent movement is taking shape nonetheless.
The number of Americans who consider themselves to be independent is growing. The latest polls by Gallup tell us that as of February, 42% of the American public are independents. Gallup is tracking this number every month, as the statistic tells us something important about what’s happening in our country.
What is happening? A plurality of Americans believe that the major parties do not represent them and are failing to lead the country in a positive direction.
So, Gallup is “keeping an eye” on us, tracking our growth. At the same time, there is a constant push to deny that we exist.
Literally, the day after the latest Gallup numbers came out, a leading political scientist — Larry Sabato from the University of Virginia — tweeted a statement saying that the real number of independents was much, much smaller, almost non-existent, because most indies are actually “leaners,” meaning we lean to one party or another.
In his view, the Gallup poll is wrong. Independents don’t exist. We’re a fiction!
When I saw this tweet, I had to laugh. I wanted to send out my own tweet that said, “FAKE NEWS!" But, I didn’t want to sound like the president.
When all you have to vote for in 99% of elections is a major party candidate, if you choose to vote, then those are your choices. That doesn’t make you any less of an independent. More likely, it makes you frustrated and angry.
Just over a week ago, the Los Angeles Times weighed in on this controversy with an article titled “Why the Rise of the Independent Voter is a Political Myth.” So, now we’re a myth! This, in the face of indies being the fastest growing segment in the California electorate, where we are now close to 25%.
These descriptions — we’re leaners, we’re a myth — have a very particular purpose. The purpose is to make us — and, if you spin out Gallup’s 42%, the roughly 100 million voting age Americans who are independents — feel isolated, detached, and alone.
If you’re an independent in Indiana or Montana or Alabama and you hear, “Oh, there’s really no such thing as an independent,” then you will feel that you are entirely alone. But you aren’t. Far from it.
At Independent Voting, one of the things that we do — and we do many things — is to connect independents to one another all across the country. To meet each other, to talk together, to work on various kinds of projects and campaigns together, to create new political tools.
We don’t simply “like” each other on Facebook. We face one another and find ways to develop a bottom-up political movement that the parties don’t control.
When there’s a movement-in-the-making such as ours, we have to build our connection to one another to make ourselves visible, and not simply as a statistic in a Gallup poll. We are becoming an active — often decisive — political force in elections, in reform battles, in the courts, and in the national conversation about politics.
The more visible we are, the more powerful we are.
Why is the establishment so afraid of us? There’s really a simple explanation.
The political parties have set themselves up to mediate the American people’s relationship to our government. On this point, the Republicans and Democrats are in total agreement with each other. They’ve inserted themselves between the voters and the policy making process.
It means everything must go through them. Every policy, every process, every elected official, every dialogue, every election, every decision is to be mediated, to be filtered, to be controlled by them.
But so many Americans want a change in that arrangement. They don’t trust the parties to do right by us. That’s one way to think about what it means to be an independent.
Recently, I met the governor of Alaska, Bill Walker, who is an independent. He spoke at a great event organized by Unite America — formerly the Centrist Project — hosted by its founder, Charles Wheelan, and its able executive director, Nick Troiano. (I like the name change, by the way. The idea of there being a centrist path down the “middle” between the two major parties has been obsolete for a while, actually since the Perot movement in the 1990’s. The voter rebellion in 2016, which took place inside the parties, was hardly a centrist or moderate uprising. It was an uprising against the establishment of both parties. That quest is far from over!)
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Governor Walker, from a family of Alaska pioneers, introduced himself as a journeyman carpenter whose young bride convinced him to go to law school. They went together. This set him on a path to politics and government.
Starting out as a Republican, he switched to being an independent after experiencing the negative pressures of partisan politics, pressures that were heightened by having closed primaries.
In his remarks at the Unite America gathering, standing in front of a banner that read “Country Over Party,” he put it in very personal terms:
I got to tell you how rewarding it is to be an independent, because you can be yourself. Every day when you look in the mirror, you can recognize that person. And sometimes in politics, you don’t recognize that person. I am sentenced to a life sentence of every decision I make, and I want to make sure that I can live with that decision, not that I’m trying to please one particular group or not … I love doing this as an independent, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
Walker tells a crucial story about the state of our politics. It can distort and disfigure who we are, as caring human beings. We have to put an end to that. That’s what motivates and inspires so many independents. We do exist. We are not a myth. And we care.