The new york times
The Opinion Pages | CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER
Declaration of IndependentsJULY 3, 2014
The fastest-growing, most open-minded and least-partisan group of voters will have no say. That’s right: The independents, on this Independence Day, have never been more numerous. But they’ve never been more shut out of power.
Earlier this year, Gallup found that 42 percent of Americans identified as independents, the highest it has measured since modern polling techniques started 25 years ago. That survey found that Republicans — destined to keep control of the House and possibly take the Senate — comprise only one in four Americans, their lowest share over that same quarter-century span. Democrats were at 31 percent.
The breakdown is even more unrepresentative when you look at the millennial generation, which, by most definitions, is the largest ever, with about 80 million people. These are the baby boomers’ kids, who bring their life-as-a-buffet view to voting as well. They like choice — in music, food, lifestyle, religion and politics.
Half of all Americans under the age of 34 describe themselves as politically independent, according to a Pew Research Center survey earlier this year, a high-water mark. This generation is also near the highest levels — 29 percent — to say they are not affiliated with any religion.
And if you consider California, our most populous state and long a trendsetter for values and politics, the same picture emerges. There, the latest tally of registered voters shows that the fastest-growing segment is the category of “no party.” While the number of these independent voters in California grew by 50,000 people this year, the Republicans lost almost 37,000. Democrats were basically flat, with a loss of 3,000.
The pattern, nearly everywhere but in the states of the old Confederacy, is the same: People are leaving the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the Democrats, to jump in the nonpartisan lane. The independents are more likely to want something done about climate change, and immigration reform. They’re not afraid of gay marriage or contraception or sensible gun laws. They think government can be a force for good.
And none of those sentiments are represented by the current majority in the people’s House. The Senate, at least, has two independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. In the House? Zero. Remember that the next time Speaker John Boehner says that his members are doing the work of the American people. They’re doing Fox’s work, which is why they’ve had endless hearings on Benghazi, and voted more than 50 times to take away people’s health care, but won’t allow a vote on the minimum wage or immigration reform.
If you thought that the last election — in which 1.2 million more votes were cast for a Democratic member of the House, but the Republicans kept control by a healthy margin — was unrepresentative, the coming contest will set a new standard for mismatch between the voters’ will and the people who represent them.
Only 12 percent of the general public is defined as “steadfast conservative,” in the latest breakdown of seven political niches done by Pew. But that rises to 19 percent for the “politically engaged.” Thus the Tea Party, though disliked by most Americans, can win elections in red states, and send people to Washington who will govern only for the narrow, passionate base that elected them.
When you examine the beliefs of independents, particularly among millennials, they lean Democratic. That is, most policy issues pushed by the Democrats get majority support from the nonpartisans. Combining all the categories, Pew put the pro-Democratic cohort at 55 percent, the pro-Republican at 36 percent. But the two party brands are so soiled now by the current do-nothing Congress and their screaming advocates that voters prefer not to have anything to do with either of them.
The indies still vote. They went for Barack Obama, twice, but hate partisanship. They’ve soured on Obama for not fulfilling his great promise of forging a coalition that is neither red nor blue.
What to do? First, recognize the imbalance. Any democracy is broken when a plurality is not represented in the halls of power. The November contest for control of Congress can’t possibly be a “wave election,” as many politicos will claim, because a near-majority has no slate of candidates.
Second, get a slate of candidates. Some states now allow “no party” politicians a prominent place on the ballot, so long as they finish in the top ranks. In the age of crowdsourcing, raising the kind of money to fight, say, a Koch brothers-backed Republican is not all that difficult.
Third, don’t check out. The emerging majority is the most racially diverse, politically open-minded, social-media-engaged generation in history. They’re repulsed by the partisan hacks, and the lobbyist-industrial complex that controls them. You see their influence in everything but the governing institutions in Washington. It’s about time that voice is heard.