Independent (voter)
Overview
 
An independent voter, those who register as an unaffiliated voter in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, is a voter of a democratic country
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 who does not align him- or herself with a political party. Independents are variously defined as a voter who votes for candidates and issues rather than on the basis of a political ideology
Ideologies of parties
This is a list of political ideologies. Many political parties base their political action and election program on an ideology. In social studies, a political ideology is a certain ethical set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, and or large...

 or partisanship
Partisan (political)
In politics, a partisan is a committed member of a political party. In multi-party systems, the term is widely understood to carry a negative connotation - referring to those who wholly support their party's policies and are perhaps even reluctant to acknowledge correctness on the part of their...

; a voter who does not have long-standing loyalty to, or identification with, a political party
Political Parties
Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy is a book by sociologist Robert Michels, published in 1911 , and first introducing the concept of iron law of oligarchy...

; a voter who does not usually vote for the same political party from election
Election
An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy operates since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the...

 to election; or a voter who self-describes as an independent.
The definition of an "independent voter" is controversial and fraught with implications.

The earliest concept of independents is of a person whose political choices, by definition, were made based on issues and candidates (due to lack of party affiliation).
Encyclopedia
An independent voter, those who register as an unaffiliated voter in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, is a voter of a democratic country
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 who does not align him- or herself with a political party. Independents are variously defined as a voter who votes for candidates and issues rather than on the basis of a political ideology
Ideologies of parties
This is a list of political ideologies. Many political parties base their political action and election program on an ideology. In social studies, a political ideology is a certain ethical set of ideals, principles, doctrines, myths or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, and or large...

 or partisanship
Partisan (political)
In politics, a partisan is a committed member of a political party. In multi-party systems, the term is widely understood to carry a negative connotation - referring to those who wholly support their party's policies and are perhaps even reluctant to acknowledge correctness on the part of their...

; a voter who does not have long-standing loyalty to, or identification with, a political party
Political Parties
Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy is a book by sociologist Robert Michels, published in 1911 , and first introducing the concept of iron law of oligarchy...

; a voter who does not usually vote for the same political party from election
Election
An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy operates since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the...

 to election; or a voter who self-describes as an independent.

Definition

The definition of an "independent voter" is controversial and fraught with implications.

The earliest concept of independents is of a person whose political choices, by definition, were made based on issues and candidates (due to lack of party affiliation). Furthermore, early studies of voting
Voting
Voting is a method for a group such as a meeting or an electorate to make a decision or express an opinion—often following discussions, debates, or election campaigns. It is often found in democracies and republics.- Reasons for voting :...

 behavior conclusively demonstrated that self-identified independent voters are less interested in specific elections than partisan voters, poorly informed about issues and candidates, and less active politically. However, a contrary view emerged: The independent usually voted on the basis of deeply-ingrained beliefs, attitudes and loyalties, and is more like the strongly partisan voter than any other voter (or the idealized "independent").

By the 1960s, scholars attempted to define the independent based on behavior, rather than party identification or loyalty. Focusing on ticket splitters, these studies depicted an independent voter who had the same level of political interest as strong partisans and who voted largely based on the issues with which they strongly agreed and/or disagreed. However, by focusing on voting behavior, this definition of the independent ignored non-voters. Critics claimed that the independent voter is merely a subset of the larger set of independents, which should also include non-voters. Studies also found that voting and not-voting is deeply affected by the particular candidate running in an election. Voting, therefore, is more reflective of what candidate is running—and therefore a poor measure of partisanship.

More recently, scholars focused on self-identification as a good measure of a person's political independence. The value of self-identification as a measure of a person's political independence or partisanship is that it is seen as a proxy for the behavior which should be exhibited by the independent voter. Additionally, self-identification could be easily captured either with a nominal question ("Do you self-identify with an existing political party?", a question which is answered with a "yes" or a "no"), or by a structured ordinal question ("Generally speaking, do you consider yourself a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or what?"). The first analyses of this measure of political independence found that there were significant differences between those individuals who self-identified as "independent" and those who listed "no preference" as to party identification. Individuals who expressed "no preference" usually exhibited low levels of interest in politics, low levels of knowledge about the candidates and issues, low frequency of voting, and less confidence in their ability to influence politics.

Although some scholars continue to conclude that self-description is the best measure of partisanship or independence, a number of studies have found debilitating problems with this measure. The nature of the voter registration system and the appearance of the ballot, the way the question reinforces a unidimensional interpretation of the political arena, the measure's failure to function in a multi-party political system, the measure's confusion of the theoretical relationship between partisanship and the intent to vote, question wording errors which confuse a social group with a political party, failure to predict policy (versus candidate) preferences, question order, and failure to measure partisanship accurately when there are sizeable differences in party size all confound accurate measurement of partisanship and independence using this measure. Even the nature of a survey instrument as a measure of partisanship and independence has been called into question.

Partisan Influence

To many scholars, independence seemed the flip-side of partisanship. Identifying the variables which are significant in creating partisanship would, therefore, identify the variables which are significant in creating political independence. Subsequently, a very large body of scholarship has emerged which has attempted to analyze partisanship.

Parents appear to be a primary source of political socialization and partisanship. Much of the theoretical basis for this hypothesis emerged from the fields of child psychology
Developmental psychology
Developmental psychology, also known as human development, is the scientific study of systematic psychological changes, emotional changes, and perception changes that occur in human beings over the course of their life span. Originally concerned with infants and children, the field has expanded to...

 and social learning
Social learning (social pedagogy)
Social learning is learning that takes place at a wider scale than individual or group learning, up to a societal scale, through social interaction between peers. It may or may not lead to a change in attitudes and behaviour...

, which studied the ways in which children are socialized and values inculcated in them. Studies of political partisanship have found that partisanship is strongest when both parents have the same political loyalties, these loyalties are strong, both parents have similarly strong party loyalties, and parental partisanship accords with socio-economic status
Socioeconomics
Socioeconomics or socio-economics or social economics is an umbrella term with different usages. 'Social economics' may refer broadly to the "use of economics in the study of society." More narrowly, contemporary practice considers behavioral interactions of individuals and groups through social...

 (for example, the wealthy are Republicans or the poor are Labour supporters).

Social groups are another source of partisanship. Friends, relatives, and neighbors often have the same partisan loyalties and strengths as one's parents. The more homogeneous the social group, the more likely the individual will be to develop strong partisan loyalties. When social group homogeneousness is low, the individual is likely to be less strongly socialized into partisan politics and more likely to seek a different party loyalty (whether by disengaging from partisanship or switching partisan loyalties).

Life-cycle and generational effects also contribute to partisanship. Initially, studies indicated that the operative variable was the "life-cycle." That is, a person's partisan attachments naturally grew stronger over time as weak socialization became strong and strong socialization became stronger. Additionally, theorists suggested that older voters favored certain policy preferences (such as strong government pensions and old-age health insurance) which led them to (strongly) favor one party over another. Later studies showed that the initial strong effect of the life-cycle variable was mitigated by generational effects. Party identification seemed strongly affected by certain formative generational events (such as the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 or the social upheaval of the 1960s). Several studies concluded that generational effects were distinct from life-cycle effects, and that both factors were significant in creating (or not) partisanship.

But if generational events affected partisanship, some scholars hypothesized that lesser political, social, and economic issues might as well. Conceding that major "shocks" such as the Great Depression could realign or dealign partisanship, some scholars reasoned that a series of smaller shocks over time could also dramatically influence the direction and strength of partisanship. Many scholars became convinced that partisanship was not bedrock but shifting sand. Important childhood events (such as becoming aware of a presidential campaign) as well as events in adulthood (such as recessions, war, or shifting racial policies) could also affect the level of partisanship. The concept of "retrospective voting"—in which the voter makes political judgments based on the party-in-power's performance over the past few years—deeply influenced studies of partisanship. Applying the concept of retrospectiveness to partisanship, more recent analyses have concluded that retrospective and prospective political party success play a significant role in the direction and strength of partisanship.

Both repeated "minor shocks" and retrospective/prospective assessments of political party success are micro-level, rather than macro-level, variables. That is, while very important in creating political independence, they affect individuals only. For example, John may come to believe that Party XYZ is not longer effective and become an independent. Yet, Mary may come to the conclusion that Party XYZ is still effective. Both voters see the same successes and failures, but their retrospective and prospective calculus of success varies.

This has led some scholar to conclude that independence is not the flip-side of partisanship. Rather, partisanship and political independence may be two distinct variables, each of which must be measured separately and using different theoretical constructs. Other scholars have concluded that the causal direction of partisanship must be questioned. While it has long been assumed that partisanship and the strength of partisanship drive attitudes on issues, these scholars conclude that the causal relationship is reversed.

In the United States

Using the self-identification method of measuring political independence, surveys found an increasing number of independent voters beginning in 1966. In 1952, when modern polling on the issue began, the number of independent voters nationwide was 22 percent. By 1976, the number had risen more than half, to 36 percent of the electorate. Regionally, the rise of the independent voter was even more apparent. In the non-Deep South
Deep South
The Deep South is a descriptive category of the cultural and geographic subregions in the American South. Historically, it is differentiated from the "Upper South" as being the states which were most dependent on plantation type agriculture during the pre-Civil War period...

, the number of independent voters had risen from 22 percent to 37 percent. But in the Deep South, the number of independents rose steeply from 14 percent in 1952 to 32 percent in 1976 (and would rise even further, to 35 percent, by 1984).

Although the number of self-identified independents has fallen slightly in the 1990s and 2000s, about 30 percent of American voters still say they are independents (as measured by self-identification).

But by other measures, the number of independents has not increased at all.
A very different interpretation of the last quarter century results if one distinguishes between respondents who are adamant about their independence and those who concede closeness to a party. ... In short, the vast majority of self-defined Independents are not neutral but partisan—a bit bashful about admitting it, but partisan nevertheless. Once this is recognized, the proportion of the electorate that is truly neutral between the two parties is scarcely different now than from what it was in the Eisenhower era. Moreover, because these "pure Independents" now are less inclined to vote, their share of the voting population is, if anything, a bit smaller now than in the 1950s and 1960s.

Several analyses conclude that (whether through survey error or misconceptualization of the nature of political independence) the number of independent voters has remained relatively unchanged in the United States since the 1950s.

In the United Kingdom

Election results in the UK since 1987 have shown a steady increase in the numbers of people voting for independent candidates. In 1987 less than 10,000 voted for independent candidates, now that support is over 140,000 people.

Currently the UK Parliament has more Independent MPs that at any other time in its history; a total of 5. Although a couple may be described as Cross-Benchers. During the 2005 election over 160 Independents ran for election, a feat that hasn't been achieved since the 1880s.

Since the 2005 election the Independent Network
Independent Network
The Independent Network is a United Kingdom-based non-profit organisation supporting independent politicians and political candidates.Founded in 2005, the IN consists of supporters and volunteers who advocate non-partisan politics. Martin Bell and Richard Taylor have been involved...

 has supported independent candidates in local, regional, national and European elections. At their launch, they were the first organisation of its kind; a loose association which imposed no ideological or political influence on the candidates it supported. Most importantly, the Independent Network was and is not a political party. It was real milestone in the British political landscape.

Since the Independent Network was founded, many other 'umbrella' organisations have stepped up the chase to get independent politicians elected. In 2009, the Jury Team was founded by Paul Judge
Paul Judge
Sir Paul Judge is a British businessman and politician. He is Chairman of plc, a director of ENRC plc, of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, of Standard Bank Group Ltd of Johannesburg and of Tempur-Pedic International Inc...

, a millionaire and politician, with the hope of getting independent candidates elected to Parliament.

Reasons Thereof

If political independence is the flip-side of partisanship, then a decrease in a number of variables—parental socialization and homogeneousness, the strength of parental partisanship, social group socialization and homogeneousness, and the strength of social group partisanship—and the lack of a generational event should increase the level of independent voting. Additionally, an aging populace (life-cycle effects) should mitigate these effects. On the individual level, repeated minor politico-socio-economic "shocks," and changes in retrospective and prospective assessments of the chances for political party success should also be influential.

However, the evidence in this regard is mixed. For example, in the U.S., voter identification as an independent varies widely across regions as well as states. Inter-party competition, the organizational strength of each party, electoral variables (such as the ease of voter registration, voting procedures, the timing of primaries and elections, etc.), and even turnout seem to greatly affect the number of independents in a state. The effect of these variables is not uniform across all the states, either.

Impact

Because independent voters do not have strong affectional ties to political parties, scholars who adhere to the self-identification method for measuring political independence theorize that independents may be more susceptible to the appeals of third-party candidates. It has also been suggested that the more independent voters, the more volatile elections and the political system will be. Others hypothesize that the amount of ticket-splitting will increase, leading to greater parity between the strongest political parties, an increase in the number of minor political parties (particularly "down-ballot" in state, county or local races), or possibly even a breakdown in the political party system.

However, scholars who hold to the behavioral measure of determining political independence point out that there has been little change in the level of ticket-splitting since the initial upsurge in the 1950s. They also point out that, when independents who strongly lean toward one party are included in the same group as that party's strong partisans, there has also been little change in party loyalty since the 1950s. For example, partisan Republicans and independents who lean Republican tend to vote for Republican candidates just as frequently in the 1990s as they did in the 1950s. Indeed, in the United States, the tendency of both strong and weak partisans to vote a straight ticket
Straight-ticket voting
Straight-ticket voting or straight-party voting is the practice of voting for candidates of the same party for multiple positions. For example, if a member of the Democratic Party in the United States votes for every candidate from President, Senator, Representative, Governor, state legislators...

 in down-ballot races is even stronger than it is for presidential and congressional races.

Many scholars also point out that partisanship is only one of many variables which predict voting choice. A decline in partisanship may have little to no impact on election outcomes, and much depends on fluctuations in these other factors.

Realigning Elections

For more than half a century, the concept of a realigning election
Realigning election
Realigning election are terms from political science and political history describing a dramatic change in the political system. Scholars frequently apply the term to American elections and occasionally to other countries...

—a dramatic shift in the electoral coalition supporting the existing political system
Political system
A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems...

—has been an important one in political theory. First enunciated by V. O. Key, Jr.
V. O. Key, Jr.
Valdimer Orlando Key, Jr. , usually known simply as V. O. Key, was an influential American political scientist known for his empirical study of elections and voting behavior.-Biography:...

 in 1955, the theory of realigning elections suggested that certain "critical elections" created sudden, massive shifts in the electorate. The political party and policies of the status quo were changed, and a new governing coalition installed which would rule for decades until the next critical election. The theory of critical elections fit well with what scholars knew about generational effects and the emerging literature on "major shocks" as a variable in determining the existence, direction, and strength of partisanship. It also helped explain the radical shifts in national politics which occurred irregularly in American history. Scholars also hypothesized that realigning elections rejuvenated public support for the political system, which helped explain the relative stability of American political structures. In time, scholars refined the theory somewhat. The concept of "secular realignment" was developed to account for gradual shifts in politics which had similar effects (eventually) to a critical realigning election. Some studies concluded that "secular realignment" came in short, jerky, periods called "punctuations." Initially, the concept of a realigning election was monolithic, that is, the effects were believed to be national in effect. But beginning in the 1980s, political scientists
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

 began to conclude that realigning elections could occur on sub-national levels (such as regions or even within states).

But with the "rise of the independent voter" and no realigning election, scholars developed the theory of the "dealigning election." In the dealigning election, all political parties lose support as partisanship decreases and political independence rises. Split-ticket voting and issue-oriented voting increase, leading to political volatility. Divided government
Divided government
In the United States, divided government describes a situation in which one party controls the White House and another party controls one or both houses of the United States Congress. Divided government is suggested by some to be an undesirable product of the separation of powers in the United...

 (one party controls the executive branch, while another controls the legislature) becomes the norm.

A number of scholars have dismissed the theory of realignment and dealignment, however. They argue that the concept is vague and the data do not support mass change in electoral behavior. The large number of qualifications which must be made to the theory of critical elections has rendered it useless, it is argued. The theory of secular realignment has been particularly criticized. The replacement of elderly voters (who die) with a new generation of voters (who come of age and are eligible to vote) is normal, not a unique and irregular "punctuation" or "surge," it is claimed. Still other scholars claim there are no regional dealignment variations while others argue that the concept of realignment and dealignment is no longer useful in an era in which political parties are no longer very important in the political system.

Impact of dealignment

Scholars who conclude that there has been a significant rise in independent voting and a concomitant dealignment of the American political system also often conclude that democracy has suffered as a result.

These scholars argue that political parties play a critical supportive role in democracies. Parties regulate the type and number of people seeking election, mobilize voters and enhance turnout, and provide the coalition-building structure essential for office-holders to govern. Parties also serve as critical reference groups for voters, framing issues and providing and filtering information. These functions, it is claimed cannot otherwise be accomplished, and democracies collapse without them. Only political parties serve these roles.

Dealignment—the rise in the number of independent voters—has an extremely deleterious effect on democracy, these scholars claim. Dealignment leads to the rise of candidate-centered elections in which parties and ideologies play little part . Without parties, candidates rely ever-more heavily on mass media for communication, political action committee
Political action committee
In the United States, a political action committee, or PAC, is the name commonly given to a private group, regardless of size, organized to elect political candidates or to advance the outcome of a political issue or legislation. Legally, what constitutes a "PAC" for purposes of regulation is a...

s (PACs) for funds, special interest groups for staff, and political consultants for expertise. The increasing reliance on mass communication leads to a withering of political discourse as the sound bite and an emphasis on the horse-race aspect of politics becomes the norm. This limits the amount and kind of information the public receives, leading to less choice for voters. When voters can stay at home and watch television rather than participate in civic life, the public no longer perceives the need to become involved in democracy—and so the civic life of the democracy withers. As PACs and interest groups become more important, the number of people speaking to the public, providing political information and different political choices and views, declines . Additionally, PAC and interest group spokespeople may not be representative of the public or the groups they claim to speak for, creating disenfranchisement of various (often minority) groups. As independent voting and ticket-splitting rise, parties seek to insulate themselves from the whipsaw effect of elections. The power of incumbency becomes increasingly important, and accessibility by the public declines. Parties seek increasingly moderate positions in order to stay electorally viable, further limiting political choice ("both parties look and sound the same"). As the parties distance themselves from the average voter and seem to offer limited policy options, dealignment worsens . As ideology plays less and less a part in elections, it becomes more and more difficult for parties to forge coalitions of like-minded officeholders. Governmental deadlock becomes common, further encouraging independent voting as citizens perceive "their" party to be ineffective. As ticket-splitting rises, divided government becomes the norm, making it even more difficult for office-holders to enact and implement policies. Politics becomes increasingly volatile, with first one party and then another governing. Although parties once held politicians accountable for their actions, their increasing irrelevance in politics leads to a decline in accountability (and thus even less responsiveness and less democracy). The "Imperial Presidency
Imperial Presidency
Imperial Presidency is a term that became popular in the 1960s and that served as the title of a 1973 volume by historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. to describe the modern presidency of the United States...

" becomes more important, since single officeholders with great power become the only politicians capable of governing.

Other scholars conclude that dealignment has not harmed democracy. Political parties have adapted to the realities of large numbers of independent voters, it is argued. The candidate-centered election has actually revitalized parties, and led to new party structures and behaviors which have allowed parties to survive in the age of mass communication. A minority view, however, suggests that the evidence for a resurgence of political parties too equivocal, and that scholars lack the theoretical concepts to make such judgments.

Yet another strain of thought has concluded that "realignment" is occurring. The slow "secular realignment" is not yet over, these scholars say. Regional differences in the level and impact of dealignment simply point up the fact that major shifts in political coalitions are occurring. Slowly but surely, these studies conclude, realignment is happening and will be obvious within a generation. These scholars argue that the surge in independent voters which began in the 1960s has ended, and that there are distinct signs that partisanship is on the rise again.

See also

  • Independence Party
    Independence Party
    Independence Party can refer to various political parties past and present throughout the world, such as:*Independence Party *Independence Party *Independence Party *Independence Party...

     (various political parties)
  • Independent (politician)
    Independent (politician)
    In politics, an independent or non-party politician is an individual not affiliated to any political party. Independents may hold a centrist viewpoint between those of major political parties, a viewpoint more extreme than any major party, or they may have a viewpoint based on issues that they do...

    , a politician who is not affiliated with any political party.
  • Independent Party
    Independent Party
    The Independent Party is a social democratic and Christian humanist political party in Uruguay. The party is leadered by Pablo Mieres, who was presidential candidate in the 2004 national elections and in 2009.-Aims:...

     (various political parties)
  • Swinging voter, a voter who may not be affiliated with a particular political party or who will vote across party lines.
  • Unaffiliated (New Jersey), a voter in New Jersey who has not affiliated with a political party prior to voting in a primary. A person is automatically affiliated with a party once they have voted in that party's primary.
  • Unenrolled voter
    Unenrolled voter
    The phrase unenrolled voter is used in the United States of America to refer to a voter who has failed to declare their voting intention. In other parts of the world, an unenrolled voter is one who is not registered to vote....

    - In the U.S., this is a voter who has not declared their voting intention. In most of the rest of the world, this is a person who is not registered to vote.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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