“Independents” and a Failure to Communicate

Aaron BlakeWhat’s we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. I hate it when someone tells me they are a political independent. The truth is, I don’t even really know what that means. Does it mean that you think Keynesian economic policy is good in 2008 and then decide that supply side economics is actually right in 2012, only to change back again in 2016? Do you think that women should have reproductive rights one year and then don’t the next? No, it doesn’t mean these things. People’s ideological convictions stay pretty consistent because they are rarely countered on them. So what does it mean to be politically independent?

It generally means one of two things. It could mean that you don’t pay much attention to politics, don’t care much about politics, and just vote for whichever candidate seems nicest. In the novel A Confederacy of Dunces, Irene Reilly is such a voter; she doesn’t vote for presidents — she votes for their wives. (Admittedly, that isn’t the worst idea in the world.) The second thing it could mean to be politically independent is to be pretentious. Most independents I speak to are of this variety: they want people to think of them as open minded and beyond labels.

A new Gallup Poll is out that shows that the number of people claiming to be “independent” is at an all time high: 43%. It has been rising steadily since 2008. Basically, during that time, three percentage points of people once claiming to be Democrats and two percentage points of their Republican counterparts now call themselves independents. (This does not include the Republican drop of 5 percentage points from 2004 to 2008.)

Political Independents - Gallup Poll (2015)

At The Washington Post, Aaron Blake wrote, A Record Number of Americans Claim to Be Independent. They Are Kidding Themselves. He called this for what it is, “What we have here isn’t so much a rise in political independence as much as a rise in the desire to be labeled ‘independent.'” And he runs down the evidence that there is actually less political independence than there has been in a very long time. It’s worth checking out because it isn’t the usual direct evidence that “independents” still vote as consistently as self-described Republicans and Democrats. Blake shows that the “swing” voters have declined as a percentage of presidential voters since at least the early 1990s.

I noted a year and a half ago what is really going on, Is Michelle Bernard Really an Independent? In that article, I wrote:

I got the feeling she was saying, “I’m not like you ideologues! I’m open minded! I vote for the best person, not for whatever my party has on offer!” There are a couple of problems with this thinking. First, the assumption is that the middle is not an ideological position. This is simply not true. Second, most liberals don’t vote for Democrats because they are Democrats; we vote for them because even though they generally suck, they are far better than what the Republicans have on offer.

And that pretty much sums it up. It is largely in reaction to this kind of thinking that makes me a Democrat. I am much more unhappy with the Democratic Party than most liberal “independents.” Similarly, I’ve known a number of people who called themselves independents because they thought that the Republican Party was too liberal. I’ll bet most of that two percentage point decrease in Republicans are people who are unhappy that the Republicans haven’t shut down the government enough.

Ultimately, Blake’s conclusion is what sums up the rise of the independents, “About the only thing that’s increasing is the self-delusion of independence.” What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. That’s always the case when people delude themselves. You can’t have an honest conversation with people who aren’t honest with themselves.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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