What Defines an Independent Voter and Why Are They So Important to American Democracy?

by Kenny Harvey

On November 3, we will have the opportunity to practice one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy as citizens of the Unites States of America: we will vote. We will choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden for president. We will choose between conservative and liberal. We will choose between Right and Left. We will choose between Republican and Democrat.

For many of us, one of the above labels defines who we are, who our family is. It is tradition. It is almost religious. Many of us will vote a straight or almost-straight ticket, without a consideration of voting for the other party. However, some of us are not defined by our two-party system. Some of us, maybe you, maybe your neighbor or brother or grandmother, are the group of people referred to as “Independents.”

But what is an Independent?

Independents in the US are a section of the electorate that do not identify as a partisan belonging to any political party. We are the coveted “swing voters” that tend to break the Red/Blue tie in many states. While many Independents lean Left or Right, and tend to vote consistently to that leaning, others are issue-focused, character-driven, or activists that will vote whatever way it takes to promote their agenda, regardless of the political affiliation of the candidate. Independents tend to have a collection of beliefs that make them uneasy with either major party.

They may be pro-gun and pro-LBGTQ+. They may be pro-life and anti-gun and anti-capital punishment.

There is another strain of Independent voter: the third-party voter. The Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the American Solidarity Party, and many others are all options for the disgruntled voter who refuses to vote for the “lesser of two evils” provided by our two-party system. Many Republicans and Democrats look at these other parties as a drain from their votes, which could ultimately cost them an election (Ross Perot in 1992), or as candidates with no chance of winning. They offer a chance for a truly independent voter to cast a vote that better aligns with their own personal beliefs.

Independents are often ignored in the primaries, as each candidate plays to their party’s primary voting base. However, as November approaches, Independents become the number one group on both major-party candidates’ radar, because Independent voters can swing entire states (as we’ve seen in past elections in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and Michigan) from one candidate to another.

Independents are political nomads in the American political system – a people without a permanent home. We wander the political landscape, searching for a comfortable place to rest before moving on.

As you go to the polls on November 3, remember that each vote for each candidate has power and must be cast wisely. 

Kenny Harvey, Independent 

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