According to Gallup’s new quarterly survey of Americans’ political views, 44% of us see ourselves as independents. That statistic is a bit difficult to accept because most Americans would say the United States is polarized. About half of us are conservative and the other half is liberal.
“How can this be, that we are a polarized people, even though 44% regard ourselves as independents? It is not easy to provide a convincing answer,” Dave Anderson, a political science professor who writes for The Fulcrum. “Although Gallup calculated that the share identifying as independents increased 4 percentage points since the final quarter of last year, it was also astounding that two out of every five citizens did not identify with either major party at the time of the presidential election.”
Since the 1980s, Gallup has been asking Americans about their political leanings. Gallup has found that although so many people — 44% — say they are independent, many members of the so-called “independent” subset still tend to lean either conservative or liberal. Gallup’s historic data shows that only 11% insist they have no partisan lean at all.
Although 11% is a minority, and the 44% that represent the so-called independent subset still constitutes a minority, there’s an Election Day reality these independent voters cannot escape.
As independents they may not be aligned with any particular party, but on Election Day their options more than likely include only two candidates with a reasonable chance of winning. Alternatives such as Libertarian Party candidates might say when so-called independent voters want to hear from candidates, but realistically, Libertarians or fringe party candidates really don’t have a prayer of winning.
The only way so-called independent voters will exert any influence on the outcome of most elections is by voting for the Republican or Democrat whose views might barely align with their own. These circumstances reveal a significant problem with the U.S. electoral system, and that’s the limited options allowed for voters.
Our alternatives for elected office seem to boil down to just two candidates: Democrat or Republican.
With our nation so polarized, wouldn’t it make sense for all of those so-called independent voters to have an option that better reflects their stand on issues? Third-party candidates might yield the middle-of-the-road positions that appeal more to independents who see themselves as neither conservatives or liberals.
Perhaps 44% isn’t a large enough pool of voters to produce a new brand of candidate. Perhaps we’ll never have a viable choice representing the middle of the pack lacking that annoying, divisive tendencies that candidates from the far right or far left can’t help but bring to the table.