Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia 1787
[NOTE: This is a revised version of the original post from 07/04/2007.]
The Washington Post published a front-page article last Sunday entitled "A Political Force With Many Philosophies," which summarized the results of an extensive survey on Independent voters conducted by the Post, Harvard University, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to the survey, 29% of voters now identify themselves as Independents, more than Republicans (27%) but still less than Democrats (36%). I've considered myself an Independent for a while now, and I've been thinking lately about what that means, so I found the article and survey interesting.
Here's part of the article:
Here's the percentage breakdown of the five categories: Disengaged (24%), Disguised Partisans (24%), Disillusioned (18%), Deliberators (18%) and Dislocated (16%). You can read through their descriptions be clicking on the links for each one.
Strategists and the media variously describe independents as "swing voters," "moderates" or "centrists" who populate a sometimes-undefined middle of the political spectrum. That is true for some independents, but the survey revealed a significant range in the attitudes and the behavior of Americans who adopt the label.
The Post-Kaiser-Harvard study was designed to probe more deeply into this increasingly influential portion of the electorate: who these voters are, why they remain independent, what they think about major issues and, of particular importance, how they differ from one another.
The survey data established five categories of independents: closet partisans on the left and right; ticket-splitters in the middle; those disillusioned with the system but still active politically; ideological straddlers whose positions on issues draw from both left and right; and a final group whose members are mostly disengaged from politics.
These independents are deeply dissatisfied with politics today and antagonistic to both parties and the two-party system itself. Nearly seven in 10 are angry."Nearly seven in 10 are angry." Buddy, you don't even know the half of it. Bush and the war may have been "components" of my disillusionment, but it's been going on a long time. I will not stay home in 2008, however. And I will not support an Independent candidate this time. I want the Republicans to be severely punished in the next election. I want to see their cowardly, pseudo-macho, chicken-hawk selves on their knees in tears. This administration has wrought hell upon our country, not to mention upon Iraq and other parts of the world. I'll work with the Democratic Party - because I feel like I have no choice.
Only 14 percent are satisfied with the political system; eight in 10 express little or no confidence in government. Nine in 10 say the two-party system does not work for them, and most think Democrats and Republicans are pretty much the same.
Many say “neither party” better represents their views on key issues, including more than seven in 10 who say so about their positions on Iraq.
Bush and the war are crucial components of the disillusionment.
Three-quarters say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and just two in 10 think it is still possible to stabilize the country. Fifty-seven percent call Bush the worst modern president.
For 2008, this group leans Democratic, but high levels of disenchantment could keep them home. They would also welcome an independent candidacy.
Some other interesting results from the study:
Okay, maybe that last part wasn't in the article.
- Fifty years ago, independents accounted for about a quarter of all adults. Today, that proportion is between three in 10 and four in 10, depending on the survey. In most states that have party registration, independents or those who decline to state a party preference are the fastest-growing segment of voters, according to Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
- Independents mirror the population in terms of age, income and education. But they are disproportionately male.
- Independents also are more secular than the overall electorate. Four in 10 in the new study would like to see religion have less influence on politics and public life than it does now. Almost a fifth say they have no religion.
- Three-quarters said voting on the issues, not a party line, is a "major reason" they claim the label, while seven in 10 said a prime factor is that they vote for individual candidates, not parties.
- About half said a major reason for their independence is that they agree with Democrats on some issues and Republicans on others, and that they are not comfortable with either party.
- Four in 10 said not wanting to put a label on their political views is a principal reason for calling themselves independents.
- One pig-headed SOB from Texas with an obvious chip on his shoulder, talked nonsensically about a party platform that incoporated the likes of jazz, Yves Montand, Tex-Mex food, a touch of anarchism, Monty Python, John Lennon, Guillaume Apollinaire, Zapatistas, the New York Jets, Tom Waits, and a radical redistribution of wealth, Coltrane CDs and Spanish vino tinto.
We have 323 kinds of breakfast cereal, 473 kinds of beverages, 500 channels of television, millions of websites . . . and two political parties.
How, I wonder, can over 300 million people from nearly every cultural, ethnic, and religious background in the world be represented in such a dualistic system? I look at the Senate, and I don't see representation of the people of the United State of America. I see rich white men. And while the House is a little better, I still don't think it comes anywhere close to true democratic representation. I don't know if having other parties would change that, but I don't think it's working the way things stand now.
If my spiritual journey, environmentalism, and life in general have taught me anything, it's that all things are interconnected. I am a part of my community and my actions affect all. In that regard, I ask myself why I don't participate more fully in the existing political system in this country by joining a party. On the other hand, I've also come to believe that life doesn't have to be so dualistic. Why should I be forced into an Either/Or situation between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to making decisions that have major consequences on our society and on the world? What about multiplicities? We're creative beings. Is it really impossible to create other alternatives?
Still waiting for a party that represents me
What I really resent is that these two monolithic parties have helped create a system in which there is no other choice. Unless some kind of change occurs, you will never again see the likes of Ross Perot getting 19% of the vote, as he did in 1992. After that experience, the parties have rigged things even more. One example is that they took over the debates from the League of Women Voters after 1992 and changed the rules, so that it's nearly impossible now for an independent candidate to participate. Also, big-money Independents like Perot, and now possibly Bloomberg, don't really care about establishing a viable, long-term alternative. It's an ego thing for them, it seems, more than a real concern about how the system works. They think that they as individuals can run things better than the two parties. And, sadly, Ralph Nader didn't seem to care about establishing a long-term alternative in the end either.
We as a country fought a revolutionary war in order to free ourselves from a corrupt political system that didn't correspond to our genuine needs. It was an inflexible system run by the wealthy mostly for themselves. As long as the Democratic and Republican parties maintain their stranglehold on our political system, I'm not sure how much real independence and fair representation we're going to feel. Disillusioned as I might be, I still yearn idealistically for a party that acts out of true vision and strength, one that shows genuine concern for creating a just society for all. On a grey, dreary Independence Day (what a drag!), I guess I'll have to settle for being an Independent.
Happy Fourth of July.