Are Independent Voters Truly Independent, or Are They a Myth? Take the Survey
For good reason, there is a lot of attention on Maine right now. I got to spend some time in Maine last week on the day the people made history with a big victory in protecting the state's ranked choice voting law. Voters also used ranked choice voting for the first time in statewide primary elections.
I think the hidden news of the week, though, is that independent voters distinctly count – and they’re not just closet partisans.
It’s a message we’ve been trying to portray and drive home for awhile, and Maine is a perfect example.
In Maine, as in many other states, the primary elections are closed. Both the Democratic and Republican primaries are closed to voters who are not registered with their party. In Maine, as long as a voter is independent (unaffiliated with a party), they can register with a party on primary day if they want to cast a ballot with that party.
But ballot questions – such as Question 1 about ranked choice voting -- are open to independent voters, without being required to register with a party. In the June 12 Maine primaries, at least 20% of primary election voters chose to vote on Question 1 while simultaneously choosing not to take a ballot to vote in the governor's race for either the Republican or Democratic Party (both of which had multiple competitive candidates on the primary ballot).
It goes to show that unaffiliated / independent voters are civic-minded and willingly participate when given the opportunity, and they may actually be more independent than much of the propaganda continues to let on.
In an effort to get a more complete picture of independent voters, to allow them to speak for themselves, and to dispel some myths and acknowledge the ways in which the system forces voters to pick between two sides, when they otherwise wouldn’t – I’m co-chairing, with Randy Miller, President of the Utah League of Independent Voters, a survey committee for IndependentVoting.org.
The survey, 9 Questions for the 44%, can be taken here. We invite independents from across the country to take it. We’re also conducting many random in-person surveys out in the field.
Sure, many independent voters who walked into the Maine primary elections, in order to have a more complete voice in those elections, probably registered with the party whose ballot they preferred to cast, and cast a ballot with that party. After three months, they might register back as independents, so that they are free to pick the ballot of their choice in the next primary election.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that those independents are closet partisans for the ballot they chose; it just means they value having a voice in determinative elections more than they value keeping their independence at all costs. But roughly 20% of Maine primary voters actually valued their independence more than they valued having a voice in an election that required them to lose their independence in order to do so.
It seems disingenuous to claim that although independent voters account for 42-44% of the national electorate, that only 5% are truly independent simply because 94% of voters in the 2016 election voted for one of the two major party candidates for president.
Who remembers what happened as more and more voters started talking about choosing someone from the “other” column? Suddenly, all anyone heard in the media was mass hysteria over the spoiler effect and wasted votes people would be casting if they voted for anyone other than one of the two major party candidates.
When independents were polled, they weren’t given an opportunity to answer questions in a way that reflected how they truly felt – every question asked them to pick a side between two false dichotomies, and declare how they “lean.”
And this doesn’t even take into account how next-to-impossible it is for an independent candidate to make it onto the ballot, be taken seriously by the media, or have an opportunity to debate.
Indeed, the current system seems to actively work against allowing voters and candidates to have open access and competitive, satisfactory choices in elections. And then the pollsters and the media and the parties say, “See, we aren’t threatened by 44% of the country being independent – independents are a myth; they really lean to one party or another, and only 5% of voters are actually independent.”
It’s not surprising, then, that roughly 20% of Maine primary voters, without registering for a party, simply wanted to vote for ranked choice voting. That’s a reform that gives greater access, voice and choice to all voters and candidates, not the least of which being independent voters and candidates.
A reform such as top four primaries with ranked choice voting would even further level the playing field. If independents everywhere were given the ability to engage in the electoral process with full participation on an equal basis with partisan voters – without being forced into a partisan box — I think we’d see that the ever-growing number of independent voters is a true force to be reckoned with.