Robert J. Dole Institute Explores the ‘Rise of the Independents’

In a political world dominated by voices from the Republican and Democratic parties, the Robert J. Dole Institute at the University of Kansas stepped outside of the partisan narrative with its Spring Semester discussion group focusing on the “Rise of the Independents.”

By self-identification, independent voters currently make up 45 percent of the electorate. Yet, the two parties dominate the media narrative, our elections, our legislatures, and even our courtrooms.

But change could be on the way.

This Spring, the Dole Institute of Politics hosted a series of seven discussions led by Jim Jonas, a Dole Fellow and executive director of the National Association of Nonpartisan Reformers. Jonas and his guests discussed a changing political landscape that is bubbling under the surface of an otherwise partisan political narrative.

Week #1: Hyperpartisanship: How did we get here, and how do we fix it?

Special Guest: Matthew Dowd
Author and Political Analyst for ABC

In week one, Jim was joined by Matthew Dowd, best-selling author, cultural commentator and chief political analyst for ABC News. Dowd brings an interesting perspective to the table given his diverse experience, including chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign. The two discuss ways to break the divide, including the psychological barriers that voters must overcome in order to vote independent.

“Our government needs to be reinvigorated and be changed. But it can’t change until our politics fundamentally change. Change in the government comes in the aftermath of change in our politics.”
– Matthew Dowd

WEEK #2: “The Shifting Electorate: The American political parties and the makeup of the electorate are experiencing enormous changes.”

Special Guest: Patrick Caddell
Political Strategist and Fox News Contributor

In week two, Jim welcomed Patrick Caddell, a political strategist, consultant and FOX News contributor. Caddell has advised over 150 presidential campaigns, from Jimmy Carter to Joe Biden. Caddell is very experienced in polling and talks about how the country is actually united on some very important topics. He also explores the regression of polls, Donald Trump, social media, and more.

“On all of the big ideas and big questions…the country’s united. There’s actually a huge common sense majority in this country. You just don’t hear it, because they’re not allowed to be heard.”
– Patrick Caddell

WEEK #3: “Third Parties and Independent Movements in Kansas”

Special Guest: Scott Morgan
Chair, Kansas Party of the Center

In week three, Jim was joined by Scott Morgan, prior chief counsel for Sen. Bob Dole and current chair of Kansas Party of the Center. Morgan touches on a variety of topics, including his failed run for SOS and how the current system is stacked against independents. He talks about how voters can begin breaking down the current system to allow an equal voice for all voters. Morgan believes strongly in a Party of the Center that has a broad range of ideologies and is made up of people that are willing to listen to one another as a solution to the polarization of our current system.

“That’s what makes us really strong, when we bring different opinions to the table and we hammer out those differences so that’s the ideology (of the Party of the Center.)”
– Scott Morgan

WEEK #4: “Challenging the Duopoly: Legal, Infrastructural, and Electoral Barriers”

Special Guest: S. Chad Peace
Legal Strategist, Independent Voter Project

In week four, Jim was joined by Chad Peace, a legal strategist for the Independent Voter Project and President of IVC Media, a digital media firm most well-known for conducting the voter education effort for California’s top-two nonpartisan primary and raising a record-breaking $10 million online for Gary Johnson’s 2016 presidential campaign. Chad and Jim discuss the barriers that insulate the Republican and Democratic parties from competition and how challenging the system requires challenging conventional wisdom.

“Our belief is that if you’re going to have a system that represents people…that the building blocks ought to be people. So, how could the first stage of the election, funded by taxpayers, administered by the government, serve the private purpose of two private corporations, the political parties?”
– Chad Peace

 

WEEK #5: “Hacking the System: Examining Unite America’s Plan”

Special Guest: Nick Troiano
Executive Director, Unite America

Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite America (formerly “The Centrist Project”) joined the Dole discussion groups to highlight the rapid growth of independent voters and the surge of competitive independent candidates at all levels of American politics.

Troiano lays out the many challenges facing independent candidates – lack of centralized data, access to talent, access to consistent fundraising, and more – but also the many opportunities for unaffiliated candidates tapping into voter disgust with partisans more interested in re-election and partisan advantage than finding common-sense solutions to the nation’s public policy problems. Nick’s organization is building the infrastructural, finance, legal and other components that will provide the necessary resources for independent candidates to start winning competitive campaigns across the country.

Note: Video to be posted soon.

WEEK #6: “Candidates and Reform in 2018 and Beyond”

Special Guest: Kyle Bailey
President, Peachtree Strategies

In week six, Jim sat down with Kyle Bailey, seasoned campaign manager and president and owner of Peachtree Strategies. With over a decade of experience in management and fundraising for a variety of campaigns, Bailey offers insight into his current project, including the historic fight for Ranked Choice Voting for Maine this election. Bailey covers the strategic problems that occur in multi-candidate races, like the “spoiler effect” and “wasted votes,” and the opportunity for voters to create more accountable institutions by changes in our election system.

“There’s a real hunger and an appetite on the part of the people to say, ‘We’ve got to look for ways to change the system to shift the power back to voters.’”
– Kyle Bailey

 WEEK #7: “Candidates and Reform in 2018 and Beyond”

Special Guest: Jackie Salit
President, IndependentVoting.org

In week seven, Jim talks with Jackie Salit, president of IndependentVoting.org, one of the nation’s leading organizing centers for independent voters. Her organization has supported independent candidates and initiatives for nonpartisan primaries and other election reform projects. They talk independent myths, the changing electoral process, and what young people can do to get involved.

“I think the rise of the independent voter is really about something that is expressive of a growing distrust and a sense of non-identification with the parties…I think it’s incredibly meaningful that people identify themselves as an independent regardless of how they may vote.”
– Jackie Salit