When asked what political party one belongs to, most people say Democrat or Republican, while others respond that they are Libertarian.
However, a growing group of voters now answer that question with the response, “none of the above.”
America’s independent voters, not to be confused with the Independent Party, are an assorted group of citizens who do not affiliate with any major political party. These voters state that they seek to break out of the stranglehold of partisan politics, and now vote for candidates based on merit.
“Independents think the main parties are more interested in self-perpetuation than meaningfully changing public policy for the betterment of ordinary people,” said Dr. Omar Ali, associate professor of African American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and on the board of directors for IndependentVoting.org.
Ali said independents believe the political process has been “hijacked.”
There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that speaks to political parties, yet Democrats and Republicans have taken over government so much so that many voters now believe political parties are public entities, he said.
“They are actually private entities. And what’s problematic is that they are deriving the benefits of tax dollars to serve their own interests and maintain power,” added Ali.
Another reason why people are identifying as independent is that the vast majority of the American people are becoming less ideological in their political orientation—they don’t see themselves strictly as liberals or conservatives. People hold multiple perspectives on various issues.
Furthermore, voters don’t believe the two-party system currently dominating the nation’s government is solving problems such as education reform, violence, the housing crisis and foreign policy. The public, particularly the disenfranchised, is fed up with feuding Democrats and Republicans.
“People are unhappy with partisan politics and are expressing their feelings. There’s gridlock, dysfunction and solutions aren’t being found to people’s critical concerns,” said Dr. Jessie Fields, an African-American primary-care physician in Harlem New York. Fields is also a board member of Open Primaries, a movement of diverse Americans who believe no American should be required to join a political party to exercise his or her right to vote.
People shouldn’t be quick to form opinions on those who identify themselves as independent. A recent Gallup poll said 43 percent of Americans say they are independents. That population is comprised of all voting age groups, both genders, multiple socioeconomic backgrounds, and races—including Blacks.
Historically, Blacks identified with “Lincoln’s Party,” or the Republican Party, through the 1930s. The Great Migration brought Blacks from the South to the North. Democrats in the north began responding to the influx of Blacks thus creating a shift and bringing rise to the staunch Black Democrat. Today, Blacks are rejecting both parties.
“One factor is the intractable poverty for generations, high rates of unemployment, high rates of incarceration of Black men—the list goes on. The fact that the Black community is being taken advantage of by the Democratic Party is undeniable,” said Fields.
Ali adds that young Blacks don’t hold the same loyalty to the Democratic Party as their parents or grandparents and take a “what have you done for me lately” attitude. Youth aren’t differentiating Democrats from Republicans. They believe both have made unfulfilled promises and obstruct true democracy.
A good example of the independent voter’s ideal election was when President Barack Obama won office in 2008. Although he ran as a Democrat, people voted for the man and his ideals, not his party affiliation. Ali said those seeking public office should model Obama’s campaign and appeal to a broad range of citizens. Fields adds to this a genuine interest in voters and grassroots campaigning such as meeting with constituents in small coffee shops and going door to door.
For those who believe independent voting is a fad, think again. They are said to be growing and have already made changes.
Fields said the movement is working in each state to implement reform. Independents have seen victory in the States of California and Washington who currently practice non-partisan elections. Louisiana has a form of non-partisan elections. A non-partisan voting system was on the ballot recently in Oregon, but didn’t garner enough support.
“There’s a reform called non-partisan open primaries. There are different forms and one is called Top Two Non-Partisan Elections. The way it works is everyone votes together. The top two vote getters go on to the General Election. Whoever gets the majority wins,” said Fields.
She said in California, the new voting system saw longtime incumbents lose their seats and give way to elected officials with fresh ideas. Many Demos and GOP are frightened of the unpredictability of independent voting trends and losing control, and few are open to the idea.
Currently, ballots typically reflect a Democrat and Republican and sometimes a third-party candidate. These ballots make it clear that all voters aren’t represented and could be a reason for low voter turnout.
Fields said she understands independents are currently voting for a member of a political party, however maintains independents vote on the issues and are working hard to bring about real change to how Americans vote.