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Independent Voters Fed Up With Entire Political System

4 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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Moderates of all stripes and centrist independents are beginning to come to the end of our leashes. The GOP got our support because of liberal overreach, not because we are any more conservative. Split government is the best option we have right now, and until we have more moderate and centrist options, the swinging back and forth is the best either party can expect from now on. Solomon Kleinsmith Rise of the Center

November 07 2010 at 10:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'll tell you what I am fed up with. I am fed up with lawyers who cost the American people MILLIONS of dollars every year by prolonging court cases for the likes of the Eliz Smart abductor, the two men in CT who tortured and killed one mans' entire family, and similar cases. Everyone is entitled to a defense, but when the obvious is known by the entire country, the manipulations and machinations of courts and lawyers simply bleed us dry, for no reason other than notoriety and an attempt to get their names in lights for a short while.

November 05 2010 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It would be interesting to find out those who claim to be a independent voter did they vote for a different party during this election than previous elections? What would be actual percentage change?

November 04 2010 at 5:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As Federal headcount and economic influence have grown metastatically since 1932, the parties on both sides of the aisle have learned to operate government as a huge shakedown machine harvesting influence bucks form unions, banksters, lobbiests, corporate and Big Pharma, to the highest bidder to assure a handsome return from the hapless taxpayer. Big Government has led to huge inefficiencies and deep, structural corruption.

November 03 2010 at 8:35 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

For all of you saying "Voting 3rd party is a throw-away vote". We the independents are greater in number than either major party. If ALL of us voted 3rd party, all the time, it would be incredibly effective, especially considering how many people usually don't vote at all. If 100% of independents vote 3rd party vs 75% of democrats voting democrat, we'd win elections by a landslide every time. This individual defeatism is stupid. We are all "just one person", but together we are more than 8 MILLION STRONG. I'll say that again - EIGHT MILLION of us, according to the latest eligible voter counts. If we all gave a dollar to an independent candidate, they would have enough campaign money to spend like the big guys. If we all turned out and voted, what kinds of change could we create? Voters don't get much media attention these days. Elections aren't focused on how many of us are eligible to participate, and I think that's for a reason: if we knew exactly how many other people like us were out there, willing to vote, wanting to make change, do you think the incumbents would ever get back into office? We can benefit from knowing we're part of a bigger movement. There are a lot of us here, and if we really want change hard enough we'll make it happen. Your vote is never thrown away. If you believe that, you may as well take out your voice box, shut down your computer and go sit in a bunker for the rest of your life because by choosing not to participate in what little democracy this country has left, you're throwing away your rights and helping the rest of us throw away ours as well. Your right to free speech is only assured as long as you vote in someone who will protect it; if you want to keep complaining you'd better start voting.

November 03 2010 at 2:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree we need an independent party. I had a difficult time making voting decisions this time because I did not like what the candidates on either side represented. In fact, it was difficult to find out what they represented because of all the mudslinging back and forth. Also, I would like to see open primaries so all the people have a chance to choose who runs for election. I do not consider myself democrat or republican so I did not vote in the primaries as you have to declare yourself as one or the other. Independent candidates should have a chance in the primaries as well. The lack of open primaries disenfrancises a large segments of voters who do not like the extremism of either party. I also believe there should be a time limit on campaigning and there should be free radio and TV time for all candidates so they are not beholding to big doners. If the campaign time was more limited maybe those elected would actually have time to get something done besides run for the next election. The campaigns have become too long and too costly.

November 03 2010 at 10:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tonight is no doubt a win for republicans, but it's not any consensus yet. We need you to go to Washington with the goal of solving our problems, not to sit on your hands and wait for the next election. Independent voters clearly put you where you are, and we can just as easily remove you.

November 02 2010 at 11:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These people make some good points. I'm a Democrat, but there are issues, important to me, that they are not addressing, partly because it's not their accepted stance to's like there can be little moving toward the 'other side's' stance, even if it's the right thing to do. And visa versa.

November 02 2010 at 11:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Interesting way to slant a story. Who do they think makes up the tea party voters? I realize the author and editor of this story wants to diminish the influence of the tea party, but we independent voters are a major force among the independent voting block.

November 02 2010 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Some really sound intelligent comments here, that for the most part are not party affilaited or clouded by the "cool aid" of either party. It gives me faith and restores belief in the USofA to read these. Particulaly cptmunson et al.

November 02 2010 at 9:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply


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