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Independent Voters Fed Up With Entire Political System

3 years ago
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Much has been written about the anger and disillusionment of voters this year. Pollsters are predicting a "throw the bums out" wave that could sweep hundreds of new candidates into office on Tuesday.

The Tea Party has manifested much of this anger on the right but what is particularly striking and has been much less reported is the level of anger this year in the independent/swing voters, who represent a much bigger block of votes.

An estimated 37 percent of all American voters now call themselves independents or unaffiliated voters, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. This is a bigger group than those who say they are Democrats (34 percent) or those who identify themselves as Republicans (28 percent). The percentage of voters who say the are independent is the largest in 70 years.

Disaffection with the American two-party political system is a big reason for the growing number of independent voters. Many of them say they have been driven from the Republican and Democratic parties by what they perceive as extremism and a failure to focus on the issues they consider most important. Others say they simply have lost faith in the two-party system and do not want to be affiliated with either party.

IF they turn out in significant numbers on Election Day, independent voters could decide which party will be in control of Congress, the governor's mansions and state legislatures around the country.

In its current state, the American political system is alarmingly bipolar: Those elected to Congress and the presidency are primarily at the ends of the political spectrum and beholden to their party leaders and supporters but not to the independent voters in the ideological center.

That has left independent voters feeling disconnected and disillusioned with a government they do not feel truly represents them. They say they are tired of partisan wrangling, which all too often results in either gridlock and a lack of action on the most important issues the nation faces or unsatisfactory legislative outcomes, pushed through by one political party with little input from the other.

Many independent voters, who voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008, say they plan to vote for Republicans this year. They have sought change in each of the last three elections but say they haven't seen the change they wanted.

According to the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 60 percent of all voters say they believe the country is on the wrong track.

Based on interviews and focus groups I conducted in key swing states with independent voters over the past month in Denver; Akron, Ohio; and Manchester, New Hampshire, this feeling is even stronger among independents. Because they do not feel well represented by the political system, independent voters are even more alienated from the system than voters at large.

The interviews and focus groups were conducted as part of the work I am doing for a book called "Swing" about independent voters around the country. The voters I spoke with were selected at random from lists of registered unaffiliated/independent voters obtained from voter registration offices and polling organizations.

What I heard during these sessions was strikingly similar in different regions of the country. Many independent voters are concerned about the spending and the approach toward government President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress have taken, but they also weren't convinced things would improve under a Republican Congress.

These voters are angry with the two-party political system and do not believe it really represents them. A number of people thought a third- or multi-party system might work better in representing a wider number of political views.

  • "I've never understood why there are only two parties in this country," Jim Norton, a 62-year-old school bus driver in Denver told me.
  • "The fact that it's a two party system leaves a lot of people out," said Erin Bailey, a 24-year-old student at the University of Colorado, Denver. "You have to be one dimensional to be represented by either party."
  • "I think you need a viable third or fourth party in there just to keep everybody honest," said Chris Weigand, a 37-year-old industrial designer from Sagamore Hills, Ohio.
  • Paul Antosh, 44, of New Hampshire who described himself as a libertarian said: "Neither party is really devoted to making things better except for themselves. I don't have either party that I can relate to. All of the candidates do what they have to do to get re-elected and tow that party line and that's not what I'm looking for."
Independent voters believe the two parties are too polarized and can't work together to get things done for the American people.

  • "I think they are so hellbent on carrying out whatever their perceived agenda is that they've totally lost sight of the regular citizens," Weigand said.
  • "They're just at a stalemate on so many issues," Norton said, adding that rather than coming up with solutions they just push things off and don't act on them. "I don't send them there to do that. I have a problem with stalemate."
  • "They're so far apart on every issue that it takes years to get something done. ... I think there needs to be more middle ground," said Jared Smith, a 36-year-old from Copley, Ohio. "People just need to come together."
  • "I think Congress is acting like school kids on the playground lining up against each other and nothing is getting accomplished and we're all hanging in the balance and we just have to sit back and watch this," said Warren Leary, 48, of New Hampshire.
They believe campaign contributions from special interests and lobbyists and political ads control and pervert the system, making it extremely hard for the average citizen to make his voice and views heard.

  • "Who spends $100 million to get a job that pays $150,000? There's a reason why," said Jeanna Grasso, a single mother of a 5-year-old son and a student at UC Denver.
  • "There's way too much money in the system. It's all about the cash. You don't spend $11 million to get elected because you're not going to get anything out of it," said Leary of New Hampshire.
  • Roy Gibson, 54, a receiving clerk at a factory from Alliance, Ohio told me, that he had called and written his member of Congress a number of times and never received any response.
Independent voters dislike negative campaign ads, which they say discourages their political participation.

  • "They spend millions of dollars to lie and make the other guy look like a felon," said Norton of Denver.
  • "I'm just so turned off by everyone hurling insults at each other," said Branden Singh, 58, a home health care provider from New Hampshire. "Instead of telling me what their position is ... all they want to do is tell me what their opponent is going to do wrong. I'm getting so sick of it."

They believe most politicians are simply interested in getting re-elected and will do whatever it takes to accomplish that.

  • "It can't be right that a politician the second day he is in office is worrying about the next election. ... I don't know how you fix that," said Weigand of Ohio. "These guys have just become career politicians."
  • "They're worried about protecting themselves and making sure they have a job rather than doing what's right," said Grasso of UC Denver. "I don't feel a connect between them and real people. I definitely don't think they're relateable. ... All they are concerned about is – 'How do I stay in office?'"

They feel most politicians and the political system are lacking common sense and civility which is what they would like to see in solving the nation's problems.

  • "Everybody has an agenda for themselves and not for the people," said Tim Tennis, a 45-year-old factory worker from Massillon, Ohio. "The people are not being heard. The politicians are doing what they want and getting away with it."

Job creation, federal spending and getting the economy moving again were cited most often as the most important problems facing the nation and the ones they want elected officials to focus on.

  • "The entire government needs to be changed," said Keith Reisdorf, an unemployed manufacturing worker from Louisville, Ohio. "We've got to get back to us being in charge of the government not the government being in charge of us. They don't pay any attention to the people."
  • "I had to take a pay cut to keep my job and I think [Congress] should have had to take a pay cut to keep theirs. ... There definitely need to be some improvements soon or I am going to revolt," said Gibson of Ohio.

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