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Independents are commonly assumed to all be in the middle of the political spectrum, i.e., “moderate.” WRONG.
According to a May 2007 national survey*, 25% of Independents surveyed saw their views as politically liberal, 38% as moderate and 35% as conservative. On social issues, 35% identified themselves as liberal, 32% as moderate and 31% as conservative. Fiscally, 15% of those surveyed were liberals, 35% moderate and 48% conservative. Across these three areas, then, approximately two thirds of Independents surveyed are not moderates.
Expecting Independents to be politically moderate should not be that surprising in today’s highly polarized political landscape. But our political world was not always thus, and here’s a word or three on how the Democrats and Republicans have come to be perceived on the conservative- moderate- liberal continuum.
During the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, traditional loyalties of family, religion and region were torn in every direction, with many shifting their political identity and focus from party to cause or candidate. In his 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter didn’t pick up the pieces of the Democratic debacle of 1972; he largely ignored them, running successfully against entrenched politics per se. He was to be turned out in 1980 by a Ronald Reagan who had raised conservatism to an art form, stamped it with an elephant, and won the votes of millions of conservative Democrats.
Indeed, 1980 was not so much the triumph of a party, but over one. Reagan’s solidification and expansion of the conservative wing of the Republican Party and its ascension to control did more than put him in the White House. It set the stage for the American political dynamic that we have today. Previously, each of the parties had a notably wider philosophical spectrum. There were, in fact, a fair number of liberal Republicans in the Senate and whole state delegations of conservative Democrats in Congress. Reagan’s success in claiming the conservative mantle for the Republican Party challenged conservative Democrats to rethink their affiliation.
Reagan’s landslide win in 1984 showed the Democrat Party of the Great Society and a thousand causes to have become politically irrelevant and practicably unworkable. Bill Clinton moved the party to a more moderate middle ground in 1992 and unseated George Bush, Reagan’s vice president and successor. However, despite eight years of economic prosperity, budget surpluses, welfare reform and lower crime under Clinton, in 2000 the Republicans defeated Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president, in large measure by painting him as liberal.
All of this has left us with a political spectrum whose conservative registers are owned by the Republicans with the Democrats viewed generally as liberal, though with many of its ranks uncertain as to just how liberal they really are, or need to be. It is this “politics of the poles” that inclines many to see Independents as moderates. This is, however, to miss the complexity of the Independent community. And for the politically engaged Independent, it means taking great care to learn about and sort among the issues and candidates.
This is why we built IDn. We want to help you think, to ask questions and to find answers. Your thoughts on how IDn can do this better are always welcome.
Survey of Political Independents; Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University; May 3-June 3, 2007.
The cover story of Newsweek’s Nov 12 issue is on New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the country’s top celebrity Independent. It’s a solid newsweekly profile and raises the point of the political Independent and an independent candidate.
According the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University poll published in July, Independents surveyed were half again as likely to seriously consider voting for an independent candidate as an R or a D; i.e., 77% of Independents would seriously consider so voting vs 49% of the Rs and 50% of the Ds. A follow up question indicated that 29% of Independents would prefer the next president be an Independent with 5% of the Rs and 6% of the Ds so inclined. (www.washingtonpost.com/polls)
We’ll we be looking at this issue as the campaign progresses. However, we would like to make clear that in our mind there is no automatic link between a person who sees himself or herself as a political Independent and a candidate running as an independent. Future Elector articles will address this issue. IDn’s role is to help Indepedents vote in a way that best reflects their interests and their perception of the interests of the country — R, D, Independent, no matter.
Also, the Elector section under Being an Independent will scroll published Elector articles in chronologocal order.
This book is just out and I am about half through it. Really good so far. It tracks the level of partisanship in the Congress from McKinley (1896) to the present. The subtitle is “How extreme partisanship has paralyzed Washington and polarized America.” Brownstein recently left the LA Times and is now political director of the Atlantic Media Co, publisher of the National Journal and the Hotline.
The rise of partisanship is regarded by some as the root cause of the growth in Independents. It would hard to say there’s not a link, but I personally believe there’s a lot more going on and will be exploring this issue in future articles. I am looking forward to whatever Brownstein might say about this and will report on it when I’ve finished the book. Any comment/reaction/thoughts on the book for IDn Blog would be most welcome. NOTE: David Border (WP) gave the book high praise in his Sunday, Nov 23 article.
Future Elector articles: Independents and the Primaries, Survey Says… and Spectrum. Spectrum will be up on Thursday, Nov 29 and debunks the notion that Independents are all political moderates, as well as offers thoughts on how the Rs and the Ds came to their currrent profiles. Survey Says… will be the first of a number of articles built on a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University survey on Indpendents completed in May of 2007. Independents and the Primaries will be out next week. The skinny on this is that Independents may want to consider registering as of one party or another in order to have a voice in the candidate selection process… Just a thought. Look for the article on Monday, December 3.
Welcome to the fray. How come it took you so long? In a political world where almost everyone else is peddling talking points for one point of view or another, it’s great to find someone screaming THINK FOR YOURSELF!
You’re right – Independents do not herd very well; but, hopefully, more and more of us will find our way back to the Independent Digest on a regular basis. I don’t think I have seen as many resources to help us examine all the issues we care about with views from all different perspectives in one place. Congratulations on a great start!
All the best,
- Bill Moroney
The greatest challenge facing a Web site for political Independents is separating it from the idea of an “independent party.” Can an organization in the political realm not have a political agenda? And, as for IDn, claiming it is a media company isn’t much use when so many see “the media” itself as biased beyond redemption.
IDn, though, is not a political party. It can’t be for the simple reason of the community it serves: the politically independent. And what distinguishes this community? Perhaps it’s a commonality in the manner in which those in it engage in the political process. Where those self-identifying as of one party or another participate in the context of a group with a common tradition, agenda and goals, the Independent participates apart from party identity, platform and structure. Where the former will vote largely on the basis of party identity, the latter votes on issue and candidate.
Moreover, Independents come in a variety of flavors. For some, there is a simple disinclination to the political realm, which in its increasing complexity only further challenges them. Another flavor of Independent are those who are politically inclined and engage actively, but just aren’t the joining type. Then, there are those between parties who have been Republicans or Democrats, but for one reason or another they no longer identify with either. Finally, there are those who vote, but distrust the system and most, if not all, in it.
IDn was founded as a media service for these “flavors” and others who choose to stand apart from partisan politics — but still insist on participating in the political process. Indeed, it is in being an informational and service resource to the Independent community as standing apart that IDn will succeed or fail. The purpose of this article, however, is not IDn’s prospects, but to make clear what an Independent is, and the Independent’s role in the process.
While standing apart from the party system, Independents stand forward and vote. And, in this sense, they can play the role of tester. This is in no way to claim a higher station for the Independent. Not at all. It is to recognize that coming to a common will and direction in a democracy requires the accumulation of values and views through the mechanism of political parties. It is also to recognize that these parties, as with all things political, are vulnerable to arrogance, excess, collective ignorance and demagoguery.
It is by standing apart from all parties that the Independent voter can provide a perspective not likely to be found in quantity in any one of them; i.e., objectivity. The simple genius of democracy done right is the appreciation and incorporation of the collective wisdom and common sense of which the citizenry of the day is capable, both partisan and Independent. I don’t expect ever to live in a perfect world. But, by participating in the political process as an Independent, I fully expect to do my part in the making of a better one.
Apart from an office holder or political party employee, there’s not a more partisan line of work than lobbyist. It is through party affiliation and support that clients are attracted and engaged, and it is through fund raising for office holders and candidates that the lobbyist gains access to the policy making process.
Now, living in Washington, DC, I find myself in the good company of lobbyists on a regular basis. On one such occasion, I took the opportunity to note a recent newspaper article cataloguing the policies of the then conservative administration and noting they were more of what might be expected of a liberal administration. Of the two lobbyists at the table, one was of a more affable nature, the other more strident, they both being seriously conservative. The former, having seen the article, nodded knowingly, smiling, pleasuring perhaps in the thought that his boys were scoring runs with the other guy’s bat. (I like that in a person, a sense of humor and an appreciation of irony.)
The more strident of the two, however, barely acknowledged my remark, seeming to look for a place at the bar where his time could be better spent. Now you should understand that there is something about me that strikes conservatives as liberal, and liberals as conservative. Whether by nature or nurture, I appear to give off the scent of a contrarian. Sensing that I had been taken for a liberal, and thus hostile, I noted that I was registered as a political Independent, that I was just curious as to their reaction to the article. This changed everything. “An Independent,” he said, sitting forward. “What do you mean?”
I couldn’t tell whether he thought me a fool or a liar, perhaps both. Certainly, though, I had the man’s attention. Looking him square in the eye, I replied, “I mean that I am registered in the state of Maryland as Non-Aligned, no party affiliation.”
There came instantly to his face a look of incomprehension. To the lobbyist, the two party system is the foundation on which the Republic maintains, a learned and beloved tradition, not to mention meal ticket. His face soon relaxed, though, a curiosity coming to his eyes. On this, a good discussion followed, about the article and politics in general, what might happen in an upcoming election. He wanted to know where I was leaning and on what issues I placed most importance, and why. We parted with a better understanding of one another and each other’s views, and have been more friendly since.
The point is this: In most cases, unless you tell others that you’re an Independent, it will be assumed by them that you are a Democrat or a Republican and everything you say will be heard accordingly. In effect, they will hear nothing that they don’t already assume. So, make clear that you are an Independent. Come out. You’ll learn more about what others are saying and thinking, and you’ll understand it better. As important, you’ll have a greater impact on what they think about the issues that matter most to you.