MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A just-released Gallup Poll states it starkly:
Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008....
Americans' increasing shift to independent status has come more at the expense of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Republican identification peaked at 34% in 2004, the year George W. Bush won a second term in office. Since then, it has fallen nine percentage points, with most of that decline coming during Bush's troubled second term. When he left office, Republican identification was down to 28%. It has declined or stagnated since then, improving only slightly to 29% in 2010, the year Republicans "shellacked" Democrats in the midterm elections.
Regardless of the percentage of voters identifying themselves as Democrats remaining stable over the last few years, neither major political party should find comfort in the poll. The reality is that the largest number of voters in the United States -- according to the survey -- are independents, which would make it the largest political party if one could corral non-aligned political thinkers into a political institution.
Indeed, according to Gallup, "The percentage of Americans identifying as independents grew over the course of 2013, surging to 46% in the fourth quarter....The 46% independent identification in the fourth quarter is a full three percentage points higher than Gallup has measured in any quarter during its telephone polling era." That's just five points short of a majority.
When Gallup factors in a "lean" to either party, both the GOP and Democrats pick up many voters. However, that may be because there are not viable third party choices in the minds of independent voters. Unlike a parliamentary system, building third party credibility in a two-party system is a daunting task on a national level.
Although not all voters may understand the various causes of an ossified corporate duopoly (although, yes, there are significant differences on social and safety net issues between the two parties), many are responding to the stagnation in DC (even if much of it is caused by a minority Republican roadblock) by going independent.
What this trend -- at least for the moment -- forebodes is not clear because independent voters generally react in two ways when an election comes: they don't vote or they pick their "lean toward" party -- Democratic or Republican.
Third parties are represented in local government, including the Green Party mayor of Richmond, CA; a new Socialist Party member of the Seattle City Council; and the new Public Advocate for New York City who began her political career as a Working Families Party candidate.
In the US Senate, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Angus King (I-ME) are independents who generally caucus with the Democrats. Sanders describes himself as a Socialist.
Has the independent movement reached enough critical mass that third party representation at every level will increase more rapidly? Given the history of the US as essentially a two-party monopoly (and big money wants to keep it that way), that remains to be seen.