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A characteristic of America’s political scene doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In a party-dominated environment, more voters declare as Independent (42%) than as Democrat (29%) or Republican (27%).

independent voters speak out

Ironically, not a lot is known about America’s Independents. One reason is that academics are generally disinterested in studying them. Analysts, who do, often respond skeptically. For example, one pundit concluded that most Independents really aren’t independent at all—they ‘lean’ to one party or the other.

What we do know about Independents is that they’re a diverse lot—from ultra-conservative to progressive. And while Independents don’t agree on all things, a recent national survey revealed that they do agree on some things—important things. That means ties do bind this diverse collection of Americans.

That’s the takeaway message from tapping the voices of nearly 5000 Independents nationwide. The survey was conducted by a network of Independent leaders affiliated with IndependentVoting.org. Here’s some of what was found.

When respondents were asked why they are Independents, two responses stood out: the belief that parties put party before the public, and a preference to put candidate-by-candidate evaluations before party loyalty. Both responses accentuate Independents’ preference for a voter-driven/candidate-centered approach to politics.

That thinking was well-reflected when Independents were asked about a practice that restricts voter participation. Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents said that Independents should be allowed to participate in presidential primaries. Independents are barred from voting in presidential primaries in states that require party registration to vote. That restriction kept 30 million Independents from participating in 2016.

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Nearly 90% of those polled believe that party-affiliated politicians don’t care what they think, while two-thirds feel devalued when they compare themselves to party-affiliated voters.

Political disengagement is just one reason why many Independents feel they aren’t respected. Nearly 90% of those polled believe that party-affiliated politicians don’t care what they think, while two-thirds feel devalued when they compare themselves to party-affiliated voters.

What’s it all mean? Tiani Coleman, founder of New Hampshire Independent Voters, put it this way: “Independents want to be heard and want to participate with full voting rights.”

The question is how to affect both outcomes. That’s especially important for Americans who believe—as many Progressives do—that what’s best for America transcends party lines and bipartisanship offers a false sense of security.

The problem is party, no matter the party, including the effort to keep Independent candidates from getting on the ballot. Independence offers freedom to think and choose unencumbered, an often unwelcome alternative—except when it comes to election time. That’s when party candidates come calling, courting Independents’ vote.

But Independents aren’t organized the way parties are. They’re more a political category than a voting block with definition and resolve.

Can Independents become a political force? If so, then a large segment of the electorate will actualize what Linda Killian calls ‘untapped potential.’ If that happens, America’s political landscape will change dramatically.

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The poll results may help point a way forward.

Frank Fear