However you consume your news, be it scrolling through an app or thumbing through an actual paper, you’ll have seen headlines over the last year emphasizing the enormous political polarization which now grips America. It’s certainly a true contention, and one that I’ve written about before. But the heart of this story should not necessarily be about the polarized voters. Our focus right now should be firmly aimed at the middle ground—the independents—rather than on the poles. And this is why:
Ahead of this year’s midterm elections, VMLY&R’s proprietary brand measurement group, BAV, measured the attitudes of a representative group of U.S. adults. As usual, their findings offered both surprising results and potentially enlightening information. BAV found that the percentage of adults who identified as either firmly Republican or firmly Democrat were about equal, with 28% of respondents identifying as Republican and 27% as Democrats. As any math majors out there might have already calculated, this measurement means that a whopping 45% of those measured identified as somewhere on the spectrum of independent—with a firm 22% identifying as pure independents without a bent in either party direction.
It’s a fascinating piece of data, given the level of polarization and vitriol in today’s political discourse. As Gallup notes, “With a nearly record-high proportion of Americans identifying as independents in 2017, it follows that identification with the two major parties is near the historical low for each.” What this tell us is that there is both disillusionment (duh), but also opportunity within the current system—and for either party if they do it right.
As politics become more inflamed, an increasing proportion of frustrated citizens are choosing to defect from established parties and disengage completely. Gallup explains, “Americans’ frustrations with the way the government is working and their generally low favorable ratings of the two major parties are two reasons why more identify politically as independents. With neither party held in high esteem, it makes sense that an increasing percentage of Americans would be reluctant to express an affinity for either one.” Consequently, today’s independents tend to skip out on the voting polls. The New York Times reports that “slightly more than a third of eligible voters turned out across the country in the last midterm elections, the lowest share since 1942.”
So what does that mean for the upcoming midterms? In short, uncertainty and change. “Greater political independence could mean voters are more likely to act as free agents when casting ballots in federal elections,” explains Gallup. And we can see that playing out IRL with independents shifting in their attitudes towards the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
According to the Washington Post, independents have shifted their overall position on Kavanaugh in the last month and are now “more likely to oppose his nomination.” In short, independents are difficult to predict, but important to follow. They are the majority right now, and if they do make it to the polls this year, they can and will have their say. Regardless of the direction independents move, it is affirming and frankly uplifting to see that the independent American voter is not dead—that there remains a growing group of people who flat out refuse to become engulfed in what some have called the “tribalism” of our current party system. Listen:
The most important political office is that of the private citizen- Louis D. Brandeis
This not a tirade against Republicans or Democrats, but simply a reminder that out of cynicism and disillusionment can come independent thought and change. If you don’t believe me now, just wait until November. What do you think?