independent voters

Independent voters were believed to be a phantom before surveys were used in study. Political independents' effects were neither investigated nor comprehended. It was often believed that men would vote for individuals above political parties. Independent voters were assumed to support the beliefs of the party they claimed to lean towards. The primary tenet of political commentary was that party identification affected the outcome of a presidential poll. As a result, it was challenging to conduct a rigorous analysis of independent voters and the trends they showed before 1976. Independent voters have been called the ‘third force’ in the political landscape of the United States. Many authors, however, dispute the actual existence and definition of independent voters claiming that they have inclinations towards either the Democratic or Republican parties. The few who do not subscribe to either party’s ideologies are regarded as a ‘volatile’ group who are not interested in American politics.

In this paper, a study will be conducted into the voting behavior of the American electorate with the aim of understanding the independent voters’ behavior and their impact on the past presidential elections. The characteristics of independent voters will be assessed and the factors that motivate their choice in denying association with either political party in the United States investigated. The presidential polls held in 2016, Clinton versus Trump, will be at the core of this case study. Voter turnout, choice and stability of independents will be analyzed with the aim of understanding the motivating factors that drive them to make their choice of president. The voting behavior of independent voters will be analyzed in order to determine the manner in which they shaped the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections in which Donald Trump emerged president. Moreover, the differences between political independents and partisan voters who are members of either the Republican or Democrat party will be discussed.

The myth or existence of independent voters

The question on whether independent voters actually exist has been discussed by various authors. Most of them opine that political independents are a myth because they subscribe to some of the ideologies of either the Democrat or Republican Party. In the article "Why can’t we all just get along? The reality of a polarized America," the authors argue that there is a polarization in the United States between the Republicans and the Democrats. Through the research conducted, based on the five claims posited by Fiorina, the authors dispute the assertion that Americans are not divided when it comes to politics. Fiorina claimed that Americans are moderate and tolerant and as such, they were critical of the divisive nature of partisan politics. The moderation exhibited by Americans in the political process created an environment where independent voters could exist. The authors agree that since Americans are ideological moderates who do not strongly support the ideologies of either political party, they could be considered independent in their voting choices.

However, there are many authors who dispute the existence of independent voters. Keith Bruce et al. deny the existence of non partisans. In their book, they posit that there were several voter identifications prevalent within the United States in the 1960s. The categories were: strong Republican; strong Democrat; weak Republican; independent Democrat weak Democrat; independent Republican and pure independents. A suggestion is made that because leaners have similar voting patterns to partisan voters, they have political inclinations which make them partisan. Pure independent voters are considered a volatile phenomenon. Moreover, they are criticized as lacking an interest in the political processes in the United States. Youths are deemed as only leaning towards independence in voting because of lack of adequate experience in the political process to make informed decisions. Educated persons who are political independents are excused as inconsequential to the political process because they do not differ much from partisan persons. However, the fact that presidential nominees opt for moderate ideologies and policies before the presidential polls is an acknowledgement of political independents. The move to the center is not only meant to unite the country’s main political inclinations, but to win over the independent voters as well.

The article “Setting the Record Straight: Correcting Myths about Independent Voters,” asserts the opinion that independent voters are a myth. The article propounds that the majority of the so called independents are ‘closet partisans’ who adhere to either of the major political ideologies. The argument seems to hold some truth considering the high number of independents in the 2016 elections. In 2016, most partisan voters chose to be recognized as independent because of the hostility against Trump and his foreign policies which were considered racist and capable of inciting violence. Despite opting to be considered as independents, some of the voters were Republican Party members.

The existence of independent voters is regarded as a mere myth because their high number has the potential of upsetting the political applecart and the idea of conflict which political parties thrive upon. Many political writers opine that if party politics cease to shape the politics of the country, other unknown factors would determine the voting patterns of the electorate. Since such factors cannot be conclusively deduced, there would be electoral volatility. Independent voters are therefore viewed as a threat as they have the ability to benefit other individuals such as independent candidates or libertarians as opposed to the two major political players.

Historical and anomalous perspective of independent voters

The historical roots of independent voters are deemed to have been the 1970s when political parties started being closely scrutinized and criticized by members of the public. Although 1974 is viewed as the onset of declining partisanship, independent voters existed prior to that. The Founding Fathers of the United States encouraged political independence in voting and were critical of the role of political parties. Independence in thinking, according to the Founding Fathers, was an important factor that had the potential of affecting the development of the American society. Non partisan voters have consistently grown in number and currently surpass party adherents in the United States. According to the study conducted in 2015 by Princeton N.J., 43% of Americans made the assertion that they are political independents.

Due to the lack of data before 1950s, the study of the anomalous growth of political independents begins around 1950.In the 1944 election of President Franklin Roosevelt, less than twenty percent of American voters were critical of party membership. The number of independent voters increased during the presidency of Harry S. Truman which began in 1944, after the death of President Roosevelt. The number of independents at the time was more than twenty percent. The 1952 elections in which the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected marked a reduction in the number of identifying moderates to just about twenty percent. The decline can attributed to the optimism of voters after changing the leadership of the country which had been in the control of Democrats since 1933. Most voters may have opined that the change to the Republican leadership would bring about more development in the country.

Dissatisfaction with both political parties was on the rise as the number of independent voters increased steadily after 1952. By 1976, the number had superseded thirty percent of registered voters. The growth in the number of non partisan voters at the time is attributable to the Watergate Scandal which developed mistrust between political party leaders and the electorate. The Watergate scandal resulted in an increased dissatisfaction with the manner in which the country was run by President Nixon with his approval ratings dropping significantly. The number of non partisan voters thereafter was consistent until the period between the presidency of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush senior in which the number grew beyond 35%.A reduction of non partisan voters was thereafter evident until the term of Bill Clinton where it inflated albeit below thirty five percent and then declined. During the term of George W. Bush junior, the number showed anomalous growth to nearly forty percent in the 2008 elections whereby President Barack Obama was elected.

The anomalous growth in the number of political independents throughout history can be attributed to a consistent dissatisfaction and frustration with the political parties system. The number of non partisan voters continued to grow as they observed the manner in which the country’s affairs were conducted. Political scandals and economic factors eroded the trust in the established politicians who were deemed as being focused on personal benefit rather than the needs of the electorate. In the 2016 presidential elections, President Donald Trump was the ultimate shock as he defied the political parties rule book. Although he won on a Republican ticket, he was considered an outsider in politics as opposed to Hillary Clinton. The ‘Trumpism’ effect was a result of a variety of factors including norm breaking; as many Independent voters sought to break the norm of party affiliations taking centre stage in politics The result was that Donald Trump was the preferred candidate of many independent voters because of the distrust in established politicians who were adherents to political parties.

Characteristics of Independent voters

According to the book by Keith et al., Turnout was also considered an important aspect in assessing the behavior of independent voters. Democrats showed lower turnout levels compared to Republicans by a margin of 7%. Weak identifiers with political parties had equal turnout levels while pure independents had the lowest number of voters in presidential elections. Pure independents were therefore deemed as showing the least political interest. The manner in which independents vote was thereafter assessed. Covert pure independents who voted consistently for candidates of a specific party in different presidential elections were considered to be inclined towards the party and therefore not true independents. A study of the ten presidential elections between 1952 and 1988 showed that Republican leaning independents did not defect as much as the Democrat leaning ones in presidential elections. Independent voters and weak partisans participated in party primaries. The assertion has significance in light of the patterns witnessed in the 2016 presidential primaries whereby some Republican leaning independents voted for Hillary Clinton in the Democrat primaries while other Democrat leaning independents voted for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries. The aim of voting was to increase the likelihood of their party’s candidate becoming president. There was an assumption in the Republican camp that Trump was capable of winning against Clinton as opposed to Bernie Sanders. Democrats, on the other hand, believed that Trump was the weakest Republican candidate and as such, Clinton could defeat him. Self image of independent voters also plays a role in their voting behavior. Conservative persons and staunch religious adherents who consider themselves political independents, for example, are more likely to vote for Republicans as opposed to Democrats. Age also had a critical role in determining voting behavior with most senior voters partisan while the younger ones were independent. The common factors among independents were: youth and education. Highly educated persons are likely to be independents.

In the article “5 Facts about America’s Political Independents”, the authors claim that in America, the number of independent voters is on the rise despite inclinations voting for partisan candidates whose ideologies the non partisans do not adhere to. The inclination towards a political party is based on a strong disdain for the other political party. There are sharp divisions in the United States which manifest in the election patterns. The five facts discussed as being characteristic of independent voters are: that the political independents are on the rise; they are motivated to a larger extent by push as opposed to pull factors; they have unfavorable attitudes towards the members of the political parties which they lean towards; they experience similar divisions as partisan voters which drive them to animosity; and they share a majority of ideological views as partisans when it comes to major issues that affect the country.

The article, propounds the idea that independent voters are caught up in a political landscape that they do not approve of albeit they are forced to make the best out of the prevailing conditions. Although most independents expressed the views that they had some partisan leaning, their views were only driven by push factors such as disdain over the other party’s policies which in their opinion were detrimental to the country. The article posits that for Republican leaning independents, 55% believed the democrat policies were bad for the country while 51 % of Democrat leaners believed Republicans were likely to lead the country into a downward spiral. Frustration with the other party’s leadership also took a critical role in leading independents to choose their leanings. However, many leaners disliked the partisan members of the parties they leaned towards although they felt warmly towards other leaners who were in the same party. The role of conflict in the politics of the United States is also referred to as being at an all time high with deep animosity towards the opposing party for both leaners and partisan voters. On major political issues, both independents and partisans had consistent views which were inclined with a particular party’s ideologies.

Factors that affect voting patterns of independent voters in the United States

The article by Samantha provides critical insight into the independent voting patterns in the United States. The increase in independent voting can be attributed to a concern for the welfare of the country. Although the polarized divisions on political issues have increased, the reasons for the increase have not been critically assessed in the article. As opposed to partisan voters, leaners are just particularly concerned with the country’s welfare and show a disdain for blind party adherence. Political independents are incorporated in the political process by being given two parties’ choice candidates to choose from despite having little political say on the persons nominated. The result is the increased agitation associated with the political process which can be argued to be dissatisfaction with the manner in which presidential elections are organized. The number of political independents is further exacerbated by the increasing polarization in the political process which does not auger well with moderate Americans. The divisive rhetoric that permeates political rallies with hidden secrets that are brought to the limelight such as the leaked emails of Hillary Clinton or the tax records of Donald Trump are viewed as distractions by moderate voters. Independent voters therefore aim to detach themselves from the divisive nature of politics and instead objectively assess presidential candidates.

The main factor that drives independent voters to their inclination is dissatisfaction with policies that arise from the political parties and their manner of governance. Leaners are therefore more concerned with preventing the worst case scenario as opposed to choosing the president based on free will. The preferred presidential candidate is elected by leaners based on their personality and likeability. The likeability of a political candidate is determined through an analysis of their lives prior to running for office. In 2016 for example, most independent voters who cast their vote in favor of Trump had a strong dislike for Hillary Clinton based on her past performance, distorted information that came into the public domain and sexist attacks on her person which resonated with some independent voters. Despite Donald Trump also getting a backlash from the mainstream media for his behavior prior to running for political office, he nevertheless won over Clinton. Trump’s sexist behavior and remarks did not deter independent voters from electing him President. The explanation behind this may be that because political independents did not have the perfect choice, they chose the better option, in their view. Hillary Clinton, who had a history of being a political insider, was viewed more suspiciously than Donald Trump whose mistakes were pardoned by the voters who believed him to be better capable of running the country based on his track record as a businessman.

In the article: "Independent Voting in Presidential Elections", the authors note that Independent voters in the United States evaluate the character of the candidates which affects their choice. Issues such as competence, compassion, morality, honesty, and political experience are some areas assessed to determine the character. Voter perceptions regarding candidates are influenced by the assessment of the abilities and qualities of the candidates. Integrity and trustworthiness of a candidate determines their popularity among independents. In case political candidates have ever held a public position, the manner in which they conducted themselves during their time in office helps the voters to judge their character and determine whether they are fit to be president. The leaked emails of Hillary Clinton, for example, had a negative effect on the perceptions of the electorate on her ability to uphold security for the country if elected president. Knowledge and experience of the candidates are also crucial factors that shape the voting behavior of the electorate. Voters feel more confident to vote for a candidate who understands the roles and responsibilities of the office they are running for, and what is expected of them.

The leadership abilities exhibited by the contenders in the presidential race influence independent voters. The belief that a candidate is capable of leading the country past negative economic times, for example, makes them more appealing. Most independent voters in the 2016 elections, who voted for President Trump, favored him because of rhetoric of making America great again and his background as a successful businessman which made the voters optimistic about improvement of the economy. After the Obama regime which left many concerned about tax reforms and increased liberal ideas in governing the country; Trump was more appealing as he proposed critical amendments to most of the policies of the Obama presidency. In 2008, the independent voters who were fatigued with the economic crisis and military spending in wars preferred Obama as opposed to John McCain who was viewed as capable of furthering the detrimental policies of President George Bush.

Ogburn and Jaffe provide insight into the factors pertinent to independent voters’ decision making. Older voters are more inclined towards service in the military by presidential candidates than young voters who are mostly political independents. Urban and educated voters analyze the capabilities of the candidates in a bid to determine which president would better address issues that affect them. The voting patterns of political independents are therefore not merely based on ideologies but rather on the pertinent issues in the country and the belief in what candidates are capable of achieving. Trump, for example, appealed to the independents because of his track record of being one of the most successful businessmen in the country thereby appealing to the majority of people who wanted economic reforms for the country. Moreover, the disdain towards traditional political ideologies, which are considered untrustworthy by the electorate, may have contributed to Hillary Clinton being a less preferred choice for president. Insiders in politics who were referred to as the ‘establishment were viewed as untrustworthy because of their track record; for example, Hillary Clinton criticism of Wall Street in political rallies despite her accepting donations for her campaigns from players therein.

According to the article by Abramowitz and Saunders, partisan polarization provides insight into the deep divisions in American voting patterns. The differences between Republicans and Democrats are posited as going beyond elitism to ideologies which affect the type of policies that are preferred by members of each party. Sharp variances are observed in increasing proportion over time. Abortion, diplomacy versus the use of force, gay marriages, death penalty, environment versus jobs, health insurance, jobs and living standards and spending services are the critical factors considered by the electorate in choosing their preferred political party and subsequently, presidential candidate. Political independents also have to take a stand on the critical issues before making a decision on who to vote for. The image and personality of each independent voter determines their stand on each factor, for example, a feminist is more likely to be pro choice and as such; in the absence of any moral concerns over the character of the Democrat presidential candidate, would more likely vote for the Democrat Party nominee rather than the Republican candidate.

The personality and likeability of presidential candidates has an effect on the independent voters’ decisions on who becomes president thereby bringing to the forefront issues such as sexism which disfavor a female presidential candidate. Contrary to the article’s assertion that voters are critically driven by policies, the issue of likeability affects the outcome of presidential elections. In 2012 for example, seventy eight percent of Republican leaning independents voted for Romney, while ninety percent of Democrat leaning independents voted for Obama. In the 2016 presidential polls, the majority of independent voters preferred Bernie Sanders as the Democrat nominee over Hillary Clinton. The fact that Hillary Clinton nevertheless became the Democrat presidential nominee did not auger well with many Democrat leaning voters and as such the result was a low voter turnout which culminated in her loss to Donald Trump. Independent voters who currently make up the majority of the electorate therefore have a major impact in presidential elections. Their decisions are not merely based on the polarization in the Democrat- republican binary but rather supersede ideologies in order to examine the individual politician. The turnout of the independent voters in a presidential election also has an impact on the outcome of the polls.

Voter turnout and stability of the voting choices of independent voters

Various authors have conducted researches that show that independent voters are consistent in voting choices; choosing presidential candidates from one political party in several elections. The impact of voter turnout in relation to the consistency is largely ignored. The choice of pure independent voters to abstain from the ballot has as much political significance as the choice to vote does. Voter turnout speaks volumes not only on independent voter patterns but also on the regime of political parties. There is no explanation provided by authors who assert this position, for example, to explain why independent voters would turn out in larger numbers in certain presidential polls than in others. The likely explanation is that political parties are a significant part of the political landscape in the United States and as such independent voters sometimes feel excluded in the political process. Some political independents and leaners therefore choose not to participate in presidential elections in which they believe that both candidates from the Republican and Democrat Parties offer no choice because they are both detrimental to the progress of the country. In the 2016 presidential polls; young voters, who are a significant portion of independent voters, preferred Bernie Sanders over other political contenders. The lack of their favored political candidate on the ballot provided no incentive to vote.

Abramowitz asserts that independent voters consistently choose presidential candidates from one political party in different polls or choose not to engage in voting. The basis of the arguments he presents are the presidential elections prior to the 2012 one. He criticizes opinion polls which portray independents as spontaneously increasing in number. Furthermore, he argues that in close presidential elections, independents show a consistent pattern of voting for the losing party. In 2000, he postulates, most independent voters chose George W. Bush and yet Al Gore was the winner of the popular vote. In 2004, independents voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry although George W. Bush was the overall winner based on the popularity vote. The article stops at the 2008 presidential elections failing to probe into the 2008 presidential elections in which Barack Obama was chosen by the majority of independents and also won the popular vote. The analysis fails to take into account the fact that such consistency in voting patterns is marred by voter turnout as persons who feel that they lack a choice between the two parties’ contenders choose not to exercise their civic duty. In the 2012 presidential elections, for example, there was a high turnout of independent voters who cast their ballots for Barack Obama. In 2016 however, many independent candidates chose to abstain from voting for Hillary Clinton. The low voter turnout rebuts the presumption that there is consistency in the voting patterns of political independents. A possible reason for the independents voting patterns in recent years can be the fact that they base their decisions on independent factors rather than the political party of the politician.


Independent voters within the United States continue to grow in number and affect the outcome of presidential elections. The 2016 poll between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump provides insight on the impact that political independents exert on the political landscape in the United States thereby necessitating a critical analysis into the factors that drive their voting behavior. Recent studies show that leaners towards either the Democratic or Republican Parties differ from the partisan members of those parties and as such, should be studied separately. Independent voters are caught up in a political scene that they do not approve of albeit they have to vote for the person whom they prefer. Leaners base their choice of political party on push factors with the aim of selecting the better leadership that would best serve the country’s interests. Independent voters care about the country’s leadership despite feeling that the presidential candidates from both sides of the divide are detrimental to the country. In the 2016 elections for example, the factors that led to the high voter turnout of Republican leaning independents was the fact that they believed President Donald Trump to be a better choice than Hillary Clinton. The political independents leaning towards the Democrat Party; who abstained from casting the ballot, also exemplified their choice or lack thereof as they did not believe Hillary Clinton to be a good choice for the country’s future.

It is important to note that independent voter turnout is influenced by the personality and capabilities of the particular individual as opposed to the ideologies espoused by their political parties. The manner in which independent voters determine the suitability of a person for the presidential office is not based on traditional factors considered important in the Democrat and Republican ideologies but rather a critical assessment of the life and achievements of the candidates. The myth of independent voters has been debunked and as such, it is important that more research is conducted to assess the manner in which they will model the political landscape in future presidential elections.


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