What It Means To Be An Independent

Comments: 4 Comments
Published on: 2012.09.24

My previous entry provided an ever-so-brief definition of “independent” (in the political context), but I feel it bears further elucidation.

For one thing, my definition is stricter than that of the Gallup polling organization, when they reported earlier this year that a record 40% of Americans “identify” as independents (31% as Democrats, 21% as Republican). I honestly don’t care what you “identify” as in a phone survey, but whether you’re registered to vote with a particular party.

Time For A Vote
Elections signs, Seminole, Okla., 2006

So questions like Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? Independent? are idiotic, since that particular Jesus isn’t registered to vote in the United States of America. And online “personality quizzes” like this one actually measure whether you’re conservative, liberal, or moderate, and have nothing to do with party affiliation.

(But — for the record — that quiz says I’m a Democrat, and according to this quiz, I’m “Post-Modern, along with 13% of the public”.)

Quite a few people who’re entrenched in one party or another think that so-called Independent voters are just people who haven’t made up their minds, or that they don’t have the information or courage to choose a side. Take this statement by liberal Democrat Bill Maher:

Independents don’t pay that much attention. Independents are the people who just throw out the party that’s in power … throw the bums out. By the way, these same bums that they just threw out two years ago, they just put back in. No wonder we can’t get anything done in this country.

So this idea that the independents are these careful thinkers … I don’t think that is who the independent voter is. I just think they’re cranky people who want change.

I think Bill may have identified a small portion of independent voters sometimes called “swing voters”. But he’s missed the point that an independent is simply a person who’s not registered with either political party.

Why would someone choose to register to vote but also choose to avoid party affiliation? I can’t answer for everyone; only myself, but I suspect that my thinking is representative of a large number of independent voters.

First, I think the real reason “we can’t get anything done in this country” (to borrow Mr. Maher’s hyperbole) is actually the two-party system that’s stagnated for generations. Every two years, power shifts from one party to the other, and then back again. Our elected representatives often spend more time, effort, and money attempting to stay in office (get re-elected) than they do trying to effect any real change or to fix any problems. Both sides spend a lot of time countering accusations from the other side of the aisle and promising voters that they’ll undo what “the other guys” did, if only you’ll re-elect them.

Even if either side comes up with a really good idea and solid plan, it’ll get watered down in compromise in order to get the other side to vote for it.

It was when I came to that realization that I switched my voter registration to “Independent” (in 2000). I think the solution is a larger number of voters (and elected officials) who feel no need to toe anyone’s party line and who would rather work for the good of the nation. Instead of party officials convincing voters that we have to win back the country from the other side, and instead of voters falling for this same crap every two/four years.

I came to another realization about that same time — the answer is almost always somewhere in the middle, and not just in politics but in every day life.

What if — instead of two parties introducing two vastly different bills to solve the same problem and then hammering for months trying to get one of them palatable for the other party — what if instead they started with the parts they agreed on: what the problem is, what solutions are not acceptable, possible impacts of various solutions, and then worked from there to create a joint solution that works to solve the issue with the least possible side-effects?

It’s not a utopian idea; it’s just practical. But it’ll never happen while two major parties have a stranglehold on the election process and the money involved in elections.

I couldn’t force everyone to sever their ties with a political party, but I could cut my own, and I did.

It has nothing to do with being “cranky” as Mr. Maher so eloquently put it, or with not paying attention. In fact, I’d say the average independent voter has to pay quite a bit more attention than the average party-affiliated voter who checks off “Republican” at the top of the ballot and doesn’t look any further or the voter who doesn’t recognize a name on the ballot and so instead chooses by party.

(And, as described in my previous entry, being independent is not synonymous with being moderate. It’s perfectly natural to be conservative or liberal and still not identify with a party. I do happen to be moderate, but that’s another issue and not related to my choice to abandon the two major parties in the country.)

Previous entries about “Independent”

* The Two-Party Farce (2002)
* An Independent Quandary (2008)
* One Side or the Other (2008)
* Independent Isn’t The Same As Moderate (2012)

Edit, Sept. 25, 2012
This post has been edited to correct a spelling error and to remove a sentence that didn’t make sense.

  1. Who has two thumbs and has been a registered Independent his entire voting life? (*points to self with thumbs*) This guy!

  2. Wil C. Fry says:

    @Richard: Excellent. That makes us a majority of two, so far. :-)

    (Counting only the voters who’ve commented on this entry.)

  3. Shari says:

    So far I’ve registered Republican in order to help with the primaries, but in the general elections I usually vote for many independent or Libertarian candidates.
    I see the point of doing it your way, too.

  4. Wil C. Fry says:

    @Shari: Makes sense.

    If I understand it correctly, Texas lets us pick our primaries. (I can vote in one, but not the other, regardless of my party affiliation.) In fact, it’s the first state where my party isn’t listed on the voter’s card. :-)

    But I know many states don’t work that way…

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