In the 150 years since America’s Civil War, people have never trusted their government less. Our government is failing us because too many Americans have abandoned its sustenance. Repulsed by the indelicacies of disagreement that ultimately fuel vibrant democracies, over 70 million Americans (roughly two out of every five registered voters) have excused themselves from the table of party politics to become registered Independents and avoid all the disagreeableness.
This seemingly innocuous process began in 2006, when growing doubts over our foreign wars first brought the percentage of registered Independents above its historically static level of roughly 30%. In 2009, after major legislation affecting over one-sixth of our economy was passed without a majority of Americans wanting it to pass, the percentage of Independents grew to 35%. Today, in response to unyielding hyper-partisanship emanating from both major parties, and the political gridlock it begets, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Independent (or Unaffiliated) is somewhere between 38% and 40%. This trend is threatening the viability of our 237 year old experiment in democracy every bit as much as the guns of Fort Sumter did so many generations ago.
Here’s the problem: Democracy is not a spectator sport. Group participation is necessary at all levels because nothing gets done individually. People coalesce around various good ideas and use their coalitions to make those ideas reality. There’s no other way to do it. Political parties embody these coalitions, helping advocates raise the resources they need to adequately publicize their ideas.
Today, our main “idea coalitions” are imbalanced and polarizing because too many independents have “opted out” of the process. In order to get good ideas again, America’s 70+ million Independents need to join the parties they lean the most toward – even if only slightly – and then let their parties know they're there!!
Joining a major political party in 2013 is critical for three reasons. First, we need more independents participating in their states’ primaries – both as voters and candidates. As it stands now, the major parties are nominating an unfortunate number of “fringe” candidates who are unelectable in the general election. Secondly, supporters of write-in or third party candidacies usually end up wasting their time and, ironically, harming the causes they originally coalesced around to promote. Finally, political parties are not ideologically static. They adjust their platforms to represent their members – especially the demanding ones.
Some independents quit their former parties in hopes of joining a viable third party. But third parties never manage to become relevant, because whenever they find an issue that resonates broadly across the populous, one of the major parties invariably co-opts it and takes it as its own. The only way most third party candidacies end up impacting elections is as “spoilers.” They fracture majority coalitions just enough to elect the candidates who would have been the runner-ups in two person races, while simultaneously harming the causes they share. In 1992, Bill Clinton slid into the presidency with only 43% of the popular vote, thanks to H. Ross Perot, whose 19.7 million votes (19%) came mostly at the expense of fellow conservative Texan George H.W. Bush, who could only muster 37%.
Some independents will risk the odds of becoming a spoiler in order to enjoy the feeling of never having to “toe the party line” again. In reality, however, they’ve got it all backwards: their party is the one that’s beholden to them. To be sure, voicing a minority opinion isn’t always easy. But America is known as the “home of the brave” because we value the courage it takes to stand up for what “we” – each individually – believe is right.
If the political party you lean towards has something wrong with it, then let your fellow members know! Today, “boat-rocking” Republicans speak their minds in groups such as Republicans for Marriage Equality or Republicans for Gun Control; while “dissident” Democrats coalesce in Democrats for Life or Democrats for Gun Ownership; and independently-minded Libertarians join Libertarians for Obama, etc, etc.
To be an Independent is to believe that the way you govern is to build consensus: you meet in the middle, everybody gives a little, and things get done. Belonging to a political party doesn’t hinder that approach one bit. In fact, it promotes it by making political parties more ideologically balanced and diverse.
Strengthening ideological diversity in our major political parties by getting most of America’s 70 million Independents “out of the grandstand” and “back into the game” is an achievable task, because 88% of America’s voters already fully understand their leanings. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 48% of America’s voters identify themselves as Democrats or Democratic-leaning, while 40% self-identify as Republicans or leaning toward the GOP.
The political challenges we face at the dawn of 2013 are immense. To successfully meet them, we will need all hands on deck and every thought on the table, which means we’ll need everyone in a party. So if you’re not affiliated with one right now, please do your patriotic duty: do your research, audit your beliefs, and join one…or switch parties…or become that outspoken voice of dissent in your current party that you’ve previously hesitated to be.
To change your party affiliation in Maryland, go to https://voterservices.elections.state.md.us/OnlineVoterRegistration