Independent Voters Can’t Be Pegged; Summer Survey Results Show We’re Not Just “Leaners”

How will independents vote in the upcoming elections? An opinion piece appearing in the New York Times this week, entitled “How to Win Swing Voters (And How to Lose Them),” says:

“As we often hear, independent voters hold the power to swing elections.

But most independent voters are not what they seem. There are two groups of independents. The ‘pure independents’ — about 25 percent of them — have no interest in politics and, as in the 2016 election, rarely even vote. They are unlikely to swing anything.

The members of the other group — the ‘leaners,’ about 75 percent of independents — lean toward a party.”

The authors are academics who have written a book, where the main thesis is that most independents (who represent 40-45% of the electorate) are partisans (meaning they favor a particular party and do not swing from one party to the other), who are turned off by hyper-partisanship, are embarrassed to show their true colors publicly, and therefore have gone “undercover” as independents.

Parties can win back their full allegiance, the authors claim, by dialing down on negative campaigning geared at firing up the base, and by being more civil and willing to compromise.

While I appreciate the authors’ willingness to call 25% of independents “true independents” – since most pollsters, the media, and academics are only willing to claim that about 5-12% of independents are truly independent – I still take issue with their conclusions.

The survey results are in from the 9 Questions for the 44% summer survey of independents, conducted by Independent Voting, wherein I co-chaired the committee with Randy Miller, leader of the Utah League of Independent Voters.

The survey results, when analyzed, show that “true independents” represent much more than 25% of the 44% of Americans who are independent. These are voters who find poll questions that try to peg us as “leaners” to be biased.

These voters also indicate that we are independent primarily because we believe the parties are failing our country and put the interests of their own party ahead of the interests of the American people, as well as voters who believe that neither party represents us.

What’s most interesting about the survey results is that even independent voters who didn’t seem as anti-party, and didn’t bristle at the inherent bias favoring the duopoly still overwhelmingly believe that the Democratic and Republican parties should open their primaries to allow independent voters to participate, and also overwhelmingly believe that at least one independent presidential candidate should be allowed to participate in the presidential debates.

See the results for yourself.

In other words, it’s incorrect to characterize “true independents” as uninterested “non-voters.” Many, if not most, “true independents” vote, using the best options they have, which are limited, and many, if not most, of the others who don’t vote have been literally or figuratively shut out of the system. They’re not inherently uninterested. Candidates arising who are “compelling,” and/or the implementation of meaningful reforms to the system would re-engage them.

In 2016, for example, we saw many previous non-voters brought to the polls by the “compelling,” “out-of-the-box” campaigns of Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Independents don’t like the status quo, and we want to see systemic changes that reform our broken system for the better.

It’s incorrect to characterize 'true independents' as uninterested 'non-voters.'
Tiani X. Coleman, IVN Editorial Voice

The authors of the NY Times piece did get one thing right: the issue independents care most about is corruption.

While it’s true that many independents are turned off by our current political discourse and the corruption of our democracy, it can’t be assumed that independents who cast a vote for candidates who belong to a major party are simply leaners for that party. Many independents feel like that’s the only “real option” they have right now.

Most independents would be more eager to participate in the process if it were fairer and open, if we had a meaningful voice with better voting options. Most independents are eager to enact reforms that would give us more of a voice and more choice.

So how will independent swing voters vote in the upcoming elections? I can truly only speak to how this independent swing voter can be won over. But I think it holds for most of us.

First and foremost, I’m looking for candidates with humble competence, honesty and integrity. I want to support candidates who are open to having their mind changed by their constituents, by different perspectives, and by more information.

I’m looking for candidates who can see the issues in a non-ideological, more nuanced fashion than typical party talking points. I’m looking for candidates who don’t see the world in an “us” vs “them” mentality, but who see the sincere concerns of all of their constituents and colleagues as being their concerns, too.

I’m motivated by candidates who have the courage to stand for what they believe in, based upon good information, in a manner that puts their ego or political future aside, and works for the good of the country. I want candidates who are beholden to the people, and not to the special interests. I’m looking for candidates who care about liberty and equality for all, and thus see the need to reform the system to be more inclusive of everyone, and less oppressive of anyone.

I like candidates who aren’t afraid to be “ahead of their time.”

I’m motivated by candidates who have the courage to stand for what they believe in, based upon good information, in a manner that puts their ego or political future aside...
Tiani X. Coleman, IVN Editorial Voice

Yeah, you’re right. There aren’t many candidates like that. So I just look for candidates who most closely resemble that, while I simultaneously work to create a system where candidates like that are more of a reality.

At the moment, I plan to vote for a libertarian, an independent, some Democrats, and some Republicans in the upcoming elections. I don’t think I could be called a “leaner.” I’m a true independent who wishes I had some better options.

With the challenges we’re currently facing, we need to be ahead of our time. What if “true independents” everywhere were to step it up? Rather than simply accepting the limitations placed upon us by the apparent choices – and picking the lesser of two evils – what if we vote determinedly with courage to only support good candidates, regardless of party or viability.

Rather than hoping that someday reform will happen, we “demand” reform with confidence that we represent 44% of voters, letting the rest of the country know that it’s not too much for us to ask that all voters be able to participate fully and equally, and that all candidates be given a level playing field, such that ideal, “out of the box” candidates are encouraged, rather than discouraged, from running. When we have that, I think we’ll be looking to a bright future ahead.

What about you? Are you a “true independent”? How will you decide who to vote for in the upcoming elections?

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