The myth of the independent voter

Pretty cool Johnathan Rauch article describing how most independent voters are really closet partisans.

Mining the ANES data, Wolfinger and company found that most people who identify themselves as independents are not uncommitted swing voters. Rather, “they are largely closet Democrats and Republicans.” Indeed, they vote much as weak partisans do. They may be independent identifiers, but they are mostly not independent voters.

Also includes an “alienation index” and the historical percentage identifiers across the spectrum of political alignment. Short version: Democratic alignment has dropped a bit and become less intense, combined with higher GOP turnout. Most interesting part:

But something that has changed – a lot – is the voting rate of true independents. Their turnout has plummeted by about 30 percentage points since the late 1950s.

The chart below suggests why. It shows the percentage of people in each category of partisanship who told the ANES in 2004 that one of the parties represented their views “reasonably well.” Think of it as an alienation index. The more partisan you say you are, the more likely you are to feel that one of the parties speaks for you. Fewer than half of true independents feel represented by a party, which presumably is why their turnout is so low. They don’t like what’s being offered.

That’s no surprise to anyone reading the P&R forum here…

You can have a political bias and still hate both parties. Whatever my personal slant may be chartable as, I have no interest in being associated with any organization run by professional politicians.

I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.
-Will Rogers

Amen. I’m a contrarian, personally. I skew away from whoever is in power currently.


What is required to be considered an independent VOTER? In the last election, for example, I voted for President and a member of congress…different party for each one. Am I independent as a result of that?

I think you have to check a box on your voter registration form. You know, next to “Independant”.

Being an independant, however, will not prevent the democratic party from sending you credit card applications.

And you can’t vote in the primaries unless the office has no affiliation (Judges, Justice of Peace, etc). I actually found that annoying at one point.

Right, but apparently that doesn’t count. That would only ID me as one; it wouldn’t make me actually vote like one. So I want to know how I can VOTE like one? I consider myself an independent voter because I think about the issues and then decide whom to vote for. However, I never vote for the independent party guy, since I rarely know his position and would pretty much be throwing my vote away. So I vote for either a Republican or Democrat. So is my ID wrong or my voting?

I think they define independent as “doesn’t vote for one party all the time” - this eliminates people who claim they’re independents but have voted for one party the last 6 elections.

Neither; the article is wrong.

Ugh, this reminded me of voting in the last pres. election. A guy actually asked me, “I can’t vote for a Democrat if I’m registered Republican, right?”

Say what you will about voter rights, but there are some cases in which restriction would help the process.


How did my post remind you of that, Houngan? Oh, you thought I was seriously asking how I should vote? No, I was asking what would qualify me as an indy voter in the eyes of the writer of the article.

But your post reminds me of the time when I was talking to my grandmother about whom I should vote for in the various races and she said “Just check the box next to all Republican” and be done with it. It scared me because I realized she has no idea whom she is voting for. She just checks her party box every time. Then I realized that’s probably what most people do.

Oh, not in a bad way, just that you were talking about being registered one way and voting another. No ill implication at all, just free association.