Politics Mondays: Can Independent Voters Add Sway to their Swing? by Jacqueline Salit
One week prior to the mid-term elections a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed the number of Americans identifying as independents rising to 42%. After the elections, independents were openly credited with being the political force that swung control of the Congress by breaking for Democratic candidates by a 2:1 margin.
In his post election survey CNN analyst Bill Schneider observed that "Independents have always been around, but for the past 12 years they've split their votes pretty evenly between the two parties. This year, they swung."
But independents also have a need and desire to be organized-not just as swing voters reacting to partisan dynamics-but as sway voters, a force able to initiate political events and sit at the political table on its own behalf.
The untold story of the mid-term elections was that independents drove the reconsideration of the war in Iraq , forcing the Democrats to adopt a more oppositional posture to the policies of the Neo-Cons. But the capacity of the two parties to co-opt independent issues for the purposes of winning elections is great. And the jury is still out. Already Democrats are indicating they may not stop Bush from sending more troops to Baghdad. Independents are sensibly circumspect about whether, and how much, their November "swing," which empowered the Democrats, will actually redirect U.S. policy in Iraq .
The focus within some quarters of the independent movement is to push ahead with plans to take independents from their "swing" status, to one of political "sway." New on-the-ground independent leaders are coming up around the country, building bases of support among independent and anti-establishment voters. Their goal is to close the enormous gap between the sheer numbers of Americans who are independents and the actual political recognition and power they hold.
This roster includes people such as Kim Wright and Helen Blocker-Adams; two independent candidates who each received over 30% of the vote in their campaigns for the state legislatures of Missouri and Georgia respectively. It includes leaders of political reform initiatives like Pennsylvania 's Russ Diamond, founder of PACleanSweep and Betty Ward, who helped defeat an anti-independent bill introduced by the New Hampshire legislature to discourage independents from voting in major party presidential primaries.
These candidates and campaigners-and hundreds more like them-are part of a new wave of independent organizing that does not rely on either party building or traditional issues. Independents don't like parties, since they feel Democrats, Republicans and often third parties engender more partisanship than progress.
These independent leaders hold to wide ranging positions on social issues, but share a fervent belief in structural political reform. They are less into the "net roots" than they are into the "get roots"-building tangible, personal and developmental networks of independents who can be deployed into a variety of political activities.
Independents intend to play a role in the 2008 election. To that end hundreds of these activists from more than 30 states are coming together at a national conference in New York City on January 28th to devise next-step strategies to build and develop the influence independents can wield.
They will gather to take stock of their success, watch the premiere of a documentary "Facing America's Independents," and reflect on their political assets and possibilities.
Briefing the conference on the emergence of an independent voting bloc will be the nationally known pollster Doug Schoen, whose insight into the independence of independent voters was honed in a partnership with the Independence Party of New York City which gave Mayor Mike Bloomberg his margin of victory. Former Reform Party officials will be part of the program, as will the independents movement's leading political philosopher, Fred Newman and the country's best know black independent, Lenora Fulani.
Hopefully, CSPAN will see fit to cover the national conference and Americans nationally can view the conference which will conclude with a Town Hall meeting on the topic "How Can Independents Win the Presidency in 2008?" The meeting will tackle the question of what "winning" means for independents and how to galvanize and grow a movement to get there.
Here's the bottom line. The political class might grudgingly acknowledge that independents can be a deciding factor. But they're less than keen on the idea that independents are starting to decide things for themselves. Nonetheless, for 2008, that's the ticket. The independent ticket!
Jacqueline Salit is the political director of CUIP and the executive editor of The Neo Independent magazine. She ran Mayor Mike Bloomberg's campaigns on the Independence Party line in 2001 and 2005. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, January 29, 2007