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Tilting at Windmills

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February 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENCE....My old J-school friend Dave Lesher is the co-author of an op-ed in the LA Times today that notes the rise of independent voters in California over the past decade. The key statistic he cites is that the number of voters who "decline to state" a party identification has doubled since 1990 to 18% of the total electorate.

Is this a real trend? I'm skeptical for two reasons. The first is found a bit further down in Lesher's piece:

Polls show that about 60% of California independents favor tougher environmental regulations over economic growth, support a ban on offshore oil drilling and believe that global warming is a serious problem. Independent voters are also among the strongest supporters of such social innovations as medical marijuana use, assisted suicide for the terminally ill, the morning-after pill and hybrid automobiles. They back gay and lesbian marriage by a 20-point margin and a woman's right to abortion by 3 to 1.

At the same time, independents are largely responsible for keeping Proposition 13's anti-tax feelings alive. Most say they believe that government "wastes a lot of taxpayer money" and that Proposition 13 was a "good thing," according to the institute's surveys. Philosophically, independents split from Democrats by favoring smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes. Still, an institute poll in January found independents supporting more money for education and health programs as well as proposed ballot measures to generate funds for healthcare and preschool.

Whether they decline to state or not, this sounds like a pretty liberal group to me. The only real evidence of non-liberalism is the fact that they supposedly approve of "smaller government" in the abstract while at the same time supporting virtually every actual government program that pollsters care to name. This is fairly standard issue incoherence, though, not really evidence of true independence.

The second reason for skepticism is shown in the chart on the right, taken from a Jon Rauch column that I read a few days ago and have been mulling over since. Basically, by breaking down voting behavior and party ID, Rauch found that most self-described independents aren't very independent at all. Nationwide, about 40% of independents lean Democratic and about 30% lean Republican, and it turns out that the leaners vote every bit as as loyally as those who define themselves as "weak" party identifiers. "Independents" who lean Democratic vote for Democratic presidential candidates about 80% of the time, and independents who lean Republican vote for Republican presidential candidates about 85% of the time. That's not very independent.

Rauch's chart might not prove quite as much as he thinks, but it's still an instructive data point. When you combine it with the broad support for traditional Democratic issues that Lesher documents, I suspect that the growing number of California independents might indicate hipster attitude more than an underlying reality. "Pox on both your house" independence might be a trendy pose, but I'll bet that most of those independents are basically just Democrats in sheep's clothing.

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Comments

I'm thinking they call themselves independent only because they don't want anyone to make presumptions about them and how they're gonna vote...thekeez

Posted by: Jeff Keezel on February 19, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

People will say they support more money for X, Y, and Z, but won't support paying taxes for it, "because the government wastes money."

People like tbroz will ship their family off to the camps in exchange for a tax cut. No matter that interest on the debt takes up 40% of income tax revenue (thanks, Reagan, Bush, and Busy)....

Posted by: Gore/Obama '08 on February 19, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

If you stayed awake in Political Science 101, you heard of all of this. But the way surveys deal with "independents" (ignoring their "leanings" and voting behavior) perhaps generates and reinforces misconceptions.

Posted by: Yawner on February 19, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I think it has something to do with the fact that at the national level, Republicans have succeeded quite well at demonizing the "Democrat" party. Nobody wants to call themselves that any more -- much less call themselves "liberals." Same with the small-government stuff.

And yet by and large most people are liberals, in almost every specific.

It's a really surreal situation, a real testament to the power of oft-repeated nostrums to overwhelm substantive political views.

Posted by: Realish on February 19, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a registered Independent in California who chooses to vote in the Democratic primary and who has never voted for a Republican in the general election. But I think Proposition 13 was the biggest disaster of many resulting from the initiative and referendum process. Why don't I just register as a Democrat? Because I don't want to be identified with a bunch of wimps. Unfortunately, there's no real alternative to voting for the wimps.

Posted by: fyreflye on February 19, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm 29, and I feel like these studies of independents are really studies of my generation of liberals.

I was a freshman in college in '94 when the GOP took over congress, and in my liberal circle we all sort of breathed a sigh of relief for divided government. We distrusted government inherently, but that isn't the same as saying that government shouldn't even try to implement policies that create a better world. We are children of the 80s and 90s, after all.

A big question that I have is whether, if the Dems controlled all levers of power, the ratio of "independent lean" would flip?

Posted by: shamanic on February 19, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

At one point in 2002, there was a slight political advangtage from declaring "decline to state" as it increased the ballot options available.

Posted by: JamesP on February 19, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing really major, but where's 1980, 1992, and 1996 on the chart? Were they deleted due to 3rd party challenges?

Posted by: George Koch on February 19, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

I think that most voters and the media are clueless about what has happened to the Republican Party. Old myths persist. If you took a survey of people on the street, I'd bet anything that 70% of them would say that R's can be trusted to manage money properly, are cautious and sensible in foreign affairs, and are opposed to big government poking its nose into our private lives.

None of this squares with the present reality, as Realish notes above. Spin and persistent repitition of wingnut mantras has shifted the perceived 'center' of our political culture way to the right, and a very small percentage of the electorate has taken notice.

Posted by: islander on February 19, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with fyreflye completely. I'm also a Decline to State but not in California. I'm considering registering Democratic so I can vote in the primary.

I almost always vote for Democrats because usually they are the only alternative to the crazies. When there is a more progressive candidate (such as a strong Green alternative) I can abandon the Democrats in the blink of an eye; my loyalty to them is only skin deep. In my opinion, they're a piss poor excuse for an opposition party.

Posted by: Enon Zey on February 19, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Realish,

Exactly. You beat me to the punch.

Fyrefly,

You make Realish' point, but I identify with the "Democrat by default" label. I'm sure as hell not a pug, but current spineless, mealy-mouthed, enabling Dem "leadership" (Dean excluded) is an embarrassment.

Posted by: Chris on February 19, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

They sound like moderate Libertarians to me, don't they? The "smaller government, less restriction on individuals, but still let the state run the schools" type certainly appears more and more common to me, and these people definitely don't identify with the Libertarian Party or either or the two majors.

Posted by: kevincure on February 19, 2006 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

I've lost track of the timeline, but CA has changed its rules for voting a couple times in the last few years. The most recent change made it easier for a 'decline to state' voter to choose where he want to vote in a primary.

Currently, CA has a 'semi-closed' primary system. In an open primary, one could vote in some Dem races, some Rep races, etc. In a closed system, only registered Dems could vote in the Dem primary, and only registered Reps in the Rep primary. 'Semi-closed' means that each party can choose whether or not to let 'decline to state' voters vote in their primary.

2008 will be a good example, because both the Reps and the Dems will have a meaningful presidential primary. Registered Republicans have to vote in the Republican primary, Dems in the Dem primary. But 'decline to state' voters will be able to choose, when they show up at the polls, which of the two they will participate in.

(It is up to the party as to whether they will accept 'decline to state' voters. Both the Dem and Rep parties accept them. Some of the other, small parties - Greens, Natural Law, Progressive - don't. Offhand, I don't recall who does and doesn't accept them. BUt I'm certain that DEms and Reps do.)

Posted by: Robert Earle on February 19, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

They sound like moderate Libertarians to me, don't they?

I'd say libertarian-leaning center-left, to be a bit more pedantic, but that's the right idea. The Democratic party is still associated (right or wrong) with large-scale social engineering, and a lot of us have a reflexive distaste for the attitude that "there's nothing wrong government can't fix." The Dems also still have a tendency to jettison their principles for the slightest political advantage (Hillary's flag-burning amendment is the latest such excrescence), which makes many of us unwilling to support the party as a whole.

This doesn't leave us much choice. The Libertarians don't matter and they're a bit, well, nuts; the Reform Party imploded, and they were a little nuts too. The Greens are fine only if you think the Democrats' vision for government isn't sprawling and expensive enough. I might be a liberal Republican if such a thing still existed, but that would also mean supporting a party that has a large percentage of crazies (to say nothing of inbred corruption), and has demonstrated that they can't be trusted with anything.

Did it ever occur to Kevin that many of us simply would prefer not to support a two-party system that reduces intellectual diversity and favors "team players" over actual competence? Or that we don't think single-party control of government is a good thing? A tendency to vote Democratic does not indicate that we're really all Democrats, especially when the government is controlled by the worst elements of the GOP. If the Democrats take back the presidency and Congress, they'd better not fuck up or I will happily vote against them until they improve.

Posted by: neoliberal on February 19, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Realish has it, I think.

Posted by: craigie on February 19, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Glad to see you pick this, Kevin. Here was my take on the same piece this morning:

***

The LAT is as good as any paper out there, but even they miss what every grassroots volunteer knows: DTS voters are Democrats, the just don't know it. When I ran the local party's voter reg drive in the 90s, I coached my people to have fence sitters register DTS, and to leave those new voters feeling good about their decision, with something like, "DTS is a great choice, we know that if you listen to all sides, you'll vote with us almost all the time."

When you read that excerpt, you might fall for the trap the writers set for themselves that DTS voters are not doctrinaire liberals, but when you look again, you see that they are, essentially, doctrinaire Clinton Democrats.

Sure, the state was majority Dem until circa 1990, but look at the large trends. Prior to 1990, we voted for President Nixon, we voted for Ronald Reagan as governor and president. We voted for the very conservative Pete Wilson and George Dukemajian. We voted to gut property taxes and education education with Proposition 13.

Since 1990 and the explosion of DTS registration, we have nearly banned the GOP from statewide office, and have become the bluest of states. We elect the single most liberal member of the Senate, Barbara Boxer, by ever-expanding margins.

But why, as new voters reject partisan identification, does the state act more partisan, more Democratic?

Because, at least in CA, the GOP's message has backfired. While the GOP was in the post-Goldwater wilderness, it attacked government, politicians, and ideologues. It threw everything into gridlock and obstruction (i.e. Proposition 13). In places where the GOP was underrepresented, this overall attack helped shift seats their way. Not here.

Here, new voters internalized the negative reputation of the parties, but found themselves agreeing with Democratic platforms with higher correlation than did the self-identified Democrats of the Reagan eras.

***

I cut the LAT slack becuase they do a great job more of the time than teh competition typically does, but in this piece, hey really dropped the ball.

Posted by: Pacific John on February 19, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

The fact is the independents in California sound like Bill Maher. I live in the Valley and while nobody likes paying taxes we will vote for any school funding measure or police bonds. Also Republicans are an anathema in California politics. That the independents here vote Democratic is not suprising, because the Republican constantly throws up extremely conservative idiots for governor and other races. These Republicans come from the few Republican regions, like the Inland Valley, but don't moderate to try to appeal to the big cities.

Posted by: Noah on February 19, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENCE....My old J-school friend Dave Lesher is the co-author of an op-ed in the LA Times today that notes the rise of independent voters in California over the past decade. . . . Is this a real trend? I'm skeptical for two reasons. The first is found a bit further down in Lesher's piece:

As I've droned on here before, I'd say no more than 25% of Americans who bother to vote are settled Dems and 25% are Rethugs. The rest spin in the wind from election to election. A quick look at presidential elections since WWII pretty much confirms this with swings from party to party from election to election, with a few landslides, most notabley Nixon's victory in 1972, Bush's electoral trouncing of Dukakis in 1988, and Clinton's electoral defeat of Dole in 1996 show that, if not fickle, that most Americans don't really have any certain ideology.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 19, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The interesting part is the "Independent Independents", which if I read you right is about 30% of them. According to the chart they voted in the majority for the Democratic candidate for the first time in 2004, and the trend is significant.

Posted by: melior on February 19, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Enon Zey wrote:
I almost always vote for Democrats because usually they are the only alternative to the crazies. When there is a more progressive candidate (such as a strong Green alternative) I can abandon the Democrats in the blink of an eye;

This is the attitude of most of the Decline To State folk that I know, including myself. Choosing the lesser of two evils does not make one a Democrat, especially when you consider the DLC types, who are basically Republican Lite.

Posted by: josef on February 19, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

A lot of "independents" (or self-labeled "moderates" for that matter) are really liberals. This is not news. Keep this in mind next time you see a poll with a given number of Democrats, Republicans, and "independents" responding.

Actually, I suspect that a lot of respondents use these labels when asked to keep from being stereotyped by the polltakers.

For the record, I've voted in favor of a few local school bonds, myself (it often takes a 2/3 win). Also for a local sales tax bump to fix a nearby highway problem. I don't mind it so much when I see where my money is going.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 19, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I am a registered Independent, always have been. My first eligible election was the presidential one that included John Anderson as the Independent candidate. I registered Independent and voted for him.

Unfortunately, since that time there has not been a viable Independent candidate. So I have been forced to vote for the best candidate offered up by either Republicans or Democrats. (And 90% of the time I DO vote Democrat) I vote for the man, not the party. Always have, always will.

I believe that this country needs a viable third party--I think it would go a long way to creating a more representative government and a better democracy. But unless someone who wins the $365 million Powerball Lottery uses that money to organize a third party, I don't think it will happen here. It would take that kind of money--and more--to organize and fight the parties in power for a seat at the table and a chance to make policy. And a third party would give the people more choices (hopefully some better ones) and create a government that would HAVE to compromise and work out differences instead of unilaterally pushing for one platform or the other.

So I will stay a registered east-coast based Independent, hoping for a miracle. There is a glimmer of hope for us Indies--more and more people are registering to vote as Independents. My own daughter registered as such, after taking a civics test to help high school students choose a party when they went to register. The results of the test were that she should register Independent--and she did.

Posted by: cyrki on February 19, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

What's missing from the analysis are the relative importance of issues for the independents. While they may embrace many Democratic issues, there may be one or two very important issues which either dominate their voting choice or keep them from fully identifying with the Democrats. Could be abortion, unions, affirmative action, national defense, etc. These can all be deal breakers. We know that there are people who vote for the Republicans precisely because of their stature on national defense.

Posted by: TangoMan on February 19, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'd say no more than 25% of Americans who bother to vote are settled Dems and 25% are Rethugs.

Actually, 21% of Americans are liberals and 33% are conservatives.

Posted by: TangoMan on February 19, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't 1992 and 1996 be the proverbial excpetion that tests the rule? Did independents vote more heavily for Perot (or ASnderson in 1980, for that matter) than self-ID's Dems and Reps? And in answer to Shamanic, whether his/her cohort, and the electorate as a whole, prefers divided gov't to full Dem control. after having experienced full GOP control, probably depends on how the Dems behaved with full control. If they governed fairly and competently, I should think it would come as a welcome relief even though it was one party government.

Posted by: Mimikatz on February 19, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect that the growing number of California independents might indicate hipster attitude more than an underlying reality. "Pox on both your house" independence might be a trendy pose

Excellent Kevin! You got me pegged. I like, TOTALLY, jumped onto the independent bandwagon cuz, like, all the other kewl kids were doing it. But scratch me hard enough, and I sign on to all the great policies of Democrats everywhere.

There, does that make you and the rest of the Democratic Party feel better?

Seriously, if you want to understand where I am politically, see fyreflye at 12:57 PM above and the last 2 paragraphs of neoliberal at 2:28 PM.

Posted by: Irony Man on February 19, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

I just wanted to add that I will sometimes vote for a Republican.

I like divided government. Let the bastards keep an eye on each other. So if I vote, say, for a Democrat for governor I'll be more inclined to consider voting for a Republican for Attorney General.

Also where I live one wing of the Democrats is a machine politics bunch of get elected, stay in office as many decades as possible, give jobs to all my cousins good ol' boys. I like voting agin those folks.

Posted by: Enon Zey on February 19, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

I originally registered as a Democrat and stayed that way for nearly 30 years. After being involved in the California Democratic Party for half a decade, I quietly went over to the Post Office and reregistered as an independent.

Although I generally vote for Democratic candidates (consistent with the graphs and your suggestion) and refer to myself as a liberal, that is a far stretch from the level of loyalty the party tried to demand of me. In brief, I refused to endorse mediocre hacks who were trying to build political careers for themselves by running for school board seats and community college board seats. I refused to say "the other party" instead of "Republican" at the Democratic club meetings (reminded me of how the terrorists say "the Zionist entity" instead of Israel). I refused and continue to refuse to support a backstabbing cutthroat like Phil Angelides, no matter how nice he sounds on TV. I also found that my environmentalist views were continually being undercut by the construction union contingent, who would support a housing development in Yosemite Valley if they had the choice.

All this having been said, I suggest that the Republicans continue to lose in California not because they lack organization or charm, but because they are genuinely fringy (extremist is also a fair term to use) on several issues that are important to our state's voters.

Posted by: Bob G on February 19, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

I've done a fair bit of voter registration work here in Los Angeles in my capacity as a Green Party volunteer. In my experience, the folks who register DTS in Los Angeles are doing so because, while they are not yet comfortable making the jump to the Green Party, they feel the Democratic Party has failed to stand up for a truly progressive, populist platform. Look at the issues Lesher says California DTS's believe in. It's basically a laundry list of issues the Clinton Administration dragged its feet on for eight whole years (before, in some cases, signing cheap and easily-revokable executive orders during his last few weeks in office):environmental protection vs. economic growth, global warming, medical marijuana, gay marriage, RU-486, assisted suicide.

Because of the DLC and Clinton's triangulation, millions of former California Democrats (like myself) have bolted to third parties, and no-parties.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on February 19, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

The Democratic party may support many of the same issues as the DTS do, but they do not have a unifying theme that they are promoting that lets voters quickly identify whether or not Dems will support an issue. Some things, like minimum wage, are historically linked to the Democrats. However, if pressed to say what the Dems stand for most would be unsure.

Posted by: JohnK on February 19, 2006 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

One big problem with registering "Decline to State" is that it affects the amount of money candidates can raise. In Kevin's (and my) Orange County, Democratic candidates have a very hard time raising money -- particularly from party sources -- because the Democratic registration numbers are so low.

So the Decline to States can turn up their noses at the Democratic Party if they want to, but they're biting off their noses to spite their faces. They make it much harder for Democrats to get elected.

Posted by: G. Jones on February 19, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

As a former California voter, now in DC (and have been previously a registered voter in Virginia and Tennessee), California offers some unique advantages for voters that like myself that want to keep our options open, don't like anyone taking us for granted and would prefer to not end up on every mailing list in the state -- the semi-open primary and the option to "decline to state". I consider my self a lefty that hates the assumptions of the left. I believe in universal health options, public schools and roads, and public utilities but also think as American's we have unique private-public innovation that should be brought to the table. "Decline to state" was the first time that I felt I actually had a choice. Now that I live in DC, I'm a registered Democrat, because it's either that or another party, and I want to be able to vote in primaries for local offices -- and being a city of Democrats, only one party's primaries count here. But yes, I think that California is part of a trend toward younger voters that also don't fit into the the party system model. Just like I did. And do.

Posted by: DC1974 on February 19, 2006 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK

They just sound like South Park Republicans to me.

Welcome to the big tent!

Posted by: Birkel on February 19, 2006 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

WTF?

Voting is private - how does voting for Democrats make you associated with "wimps"?

Voting Republican associates you with thieves and criminals and liars - arms dealers, drug smugglers. How is that any better?

Personally, I didn't vote Democratic in 2000 because those bastards don't deserve my vote. They're not fighting hard enough to represent my interests. It's really that simple. I haven't heard word 1 from Howard Dean on the mafia-like behavior of Ohio dems that muscled Hackett out of the race. I haven't heard word 1 from Howard Dean on the Abramoff scandal - the Republicans gift-wrapped their own shrunken heads as dashboard ornaments for him, and he has declined to display them proudly.

Now I'm convinced that the Dems are going to get their asses handed to them in November, because they have totally dropped the ball.

Does that make me an independent?

And - - I'm not dumb enough to believe that simply cutting taxes will eliminate government waste. Republicans are that stupid. They still waste government money, they just waste borrowed money.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on February 19, 2006 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

People like to freeload. Why actually participate in a political party if you can just sit back and snipe when they do not give you what you want? While such attitudes may be self-defeating, they are convenient and in keeping with the modern notion that we can work on whatever cause we feel interested in with the belief that we are entitled to have the Democratic Party bail us out.

Posted by: jalrin on February 19, 2006 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

I've basically reached the "pox on both their houses" stage. I am ready for a new political movement. The Libs, the Greens, etc., sure they're nice little cottage industries and vehicles for protest, but one can't really imagine any of their candidates actually handling taxpayer funds and doing the heavy lifting needed.

Nope, the little guys have had enough time to make themselves viable. They haven't done so and the fact is they can't because they're too extreme for most Americans. What I'm looking for is for one of our two major parties to go the way of the Whigs. IMO, our systemunlike the parliamentary oneswould have a hard time handling three major parties. Coalition government could be done, but it would be very difficult. I'd just like to see one of the two major parties go out of business. Doesn't matter which. As has been noted, most Americans are really liberal so there will always be a place for those ideas. But what would be nice is that politicians would be scared shitless. Maybe we could get 50 years or so before gross corruption set in again.

Nominal Democrat that I am, I subscribe to the posts regarding the deficiencies of the Democrats. I've gotten to the point where I just can't stand them. Fortunately for them, I despise the Republicans even more, and when it comes to my stateCaliforniait's hard to even find a sane Republican running for office anywhere I can vote (Santa Clara County). I did vote for Tom McClintock in the recall election.

Recall what Jefferson said about the tree of liberty and how it had to be refreshed. We're overdue.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on February 19, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

I don't agree with Kevin here. There is a genuine frustration with both parties among a certain segment of the electorate (which happens to be among the most highly educated segments of the electorate), and Democrats ignore it at their peril.

These voters absolutely do not want to lavish tax dollars on Byzanntine, union-protected bureaucracies, anymore than cash cows for private sector big Democratic and GOP donors. And they're far more willing to support school vouchers and faith-based funding for social services than the average core Democrat. They are pro-market and pro-development, but also concerned about congestion and environmental impact. They don't want to have to jump through hoops of fire to build a granny unit in the backyard. A well-designed campaign finance reform initiative requiring both public employee unions and corporations to receive member and shareholder support would get their vote. Many in this emerging bloc are post-Boomers.

Likewise, they are strong supporters of abortion rights, and are the only cross section of adults (in age) to support gay marriage and drug decriminalization. They're not overly crazy about curbs on civil liberties, but also more likely than core Democrats to support Mr. Bush's foreign policy. And as of right now, neither party really represents their interests.

Posted by: The Blue Nomad on February 19, 2006 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

And as of right now, neither party really represents their interests.

Only Arnie fits the bill.

um, whoops, nevermind.

Posted by: craigie on February 20, 2006 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think your argument here is a little ridiculous. Even if your argument that independents in California are a pretty liberal group is true, there's a difference between being a liberal and being a Democrat. Zell Miller is a Democrat, but he's no liberal.

Plenty of us who register as independents would love to see the current 2-party system fractured into a dozen or more groups offering a variety of political views. We don't have that choice now. When we go into the voting booth we get to choose a Republican or a Democrat. Anyone else on the ballot has virtually no chance of taking office. Pulling the lever for the Democrat doesn't make you a Democrat. Voting consistently doesn't make you a partisan, and being and independent doesn't mean you don't have a political philosophy. Being a partisan means voting in the interest of the party even when it conflicts with your ideals (think state's rights conservatives giving Bush a standing ovation for his NSA power grab, Christian conservatives advocating torture, DLC democrats voting for the bankruptcy bill and chasing off Howard Dean and Paul Hackett because they're too divisive). Democrats need to stop assuming independents are locked in their camp and start addressing real issues or they'll wondering how they screwed up 2006 elections the same way they screwed up the last 2.


Posted by: Mike on February 20, 2006 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting post. Here are my views:

I'm a Democratic activist; I work professionally in as many races as I can in Blue Jersey, but I'm not affiliated in a strong way with the party apparatus -- I'm just a concerned voter who enjoys electoral work. Ideologically, I'm well to the left of the Democrats (hate the DLC, worked for Dean, ACLU supporter, despise beyond words Bush's foreign policy), but I'd never dream of abandoning the party. "Democratic wing" (go Dean!) Lefties like us need to stay involved in the Party and pressure it to the left, else how can we bitch when the DLC takes it over?

I think Independents are silly. I agree with TangoMan that often what makes an Independent is a broad agreement with one party or another but with one or a couple issues to the contrary that they feel strongly about, and feel that the party they more lean toward betrayed them on. Dems who support the Iraq war or who are pro-life, Repubs who are civil libertarian, etc. Aside from that, being Independent often illustrates simply ideological incoherence. This is exemplified in Blue Nomad's post. It's incoherent to be pro-development and pro-environment. It's incoherent to be pro-civil liberties and pro-War on Terra. Issues involved tradeoffs. I'd also never support a smaller party that more accurately reflects my pretty ideologically well-formed views because smaller parties are electoral suicide, and reflect a kind of narcissism (MY issues are the MOST IMPORTANT and I'll vote out of SPITE if they're NOT ADDRESSED) that I feel has no place in politics, which is the art of the possible.

I'd join a third party (most likely the Greens) in a heartbeat, though, if we could have IRV and assure independents and third-party voters that their votes wouldn't go wasted.

In fact, I think a national crusade for IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) would probably be the most significant electoral reform (outside of auditable voting machines) we, as concerned citizens, could make.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 20, 2006 at 4:30 AM | PERMALINK

Aside from that, being Independent often illustrates simply ideological incoherence.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. But what do I know, the Party knows best.

This is exemplified in Blue Nomad's post. It's incoherent to be pro-development and pro-environment.

And the Democratic Party is different how, exactly?

It's incoherent to be pro-civil liberties and pro-War on Terra.

And the Democratic Party is different how, exactly?

Issues involved tradeoffs.

Which seems to me to be the very reason why many people like me are independents - the party that claims to "represent" us is constantly trading principle off for god knows what. Perhaps Independents are more ideologically coherent than the Democrats?

Posted by: Irony Man on February 20, 2006 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

registered CA-DTS for many of the reasons stated previously, plus one: 2nd AMENDMENT. GWB is the best reason I could ever give to keep Kevin and his Dem friends out of my closet. I will give you my $ for education, infrastructure, and most societal goods... but the demise of the two party system will make my heart sing.

Posted by: blackhawk on February 20, 2006 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Irony Man:

> Aside from that, being Independent often
> illustrates simply ideological incoherence.

> A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Well, you can't have it both ways here. You can't chide me
for a "foolish consistency" and then claim that Independents
like yourself are perhaps more ideologically consistent.
Without looking "foolish" yourself, of course :)

> But what do I know, the Party knows best.

If you've read my post, you'll realize that this snark is ill-
advised. The Democratic Party is full of local hacks and national
DLCers. I could have hardly have been an ardent Howard Dean man
in the primaries and adore the Democrats qua the Democrats while
the national Democrats were trying desperately to destroy him.

I live in The People's Republic of Middlesex County. I'm a solid
Dem in federal and statewide races. I *never* vote for the local
machine Democrats for freeholder, city council and county sherriff.

> "This is exemplified in Blue Nomad's post. It's
> incoherent to be pro-development and pro-environment."

> And the Democratic Party is different how, exactly?

It's not, of course. It's all over the map. I used to work
for The League of Conservation Voters when they had a canvass
back in the 80s. The League endorses mostly Dems but also a few
key Republicans. Suburban sprawl is surely a bipartisan issue.

> "It's incoherent to be pro-civil liberties and pro-War on Terra."

> And the Democratic Party is different how, exactly?

Again, it's not. Look at Hillarendous. Look at Joementum.

> "Issues involved tradeoffs."

> Which seems to me to be the very reason why many people like me
> are independents - the party that claims to "represent" us is
> constantly trading principle off for god knows what. Perhaps
> Independents are more ideologically coherent than the Democrats?

Oh sure. But there is (or should be) a vast difference between
one's personal political philosophy and which national party one
supports. A national party is a big tent. Its platform is made
of vague plattitudes which allows all sorts of strange bedfellows
to crawl under it. That's inevitable. And while "designer parties"
(how, umm, Californian :) would more consistently express one's
personal value system, supporting them IMHO is narcissistic; a form
of identity politics. Because, at the end of the day, voting for
them *nationally* (go ahead and vote for them locally; I certainly
do) amounts to throwing your vote away for the national party
who clearly expresses *more* of your values than the other one.

The sort of reasoning that people use to support third parties
(without a viable electoral process to keep their voices enfranchised
like IRV) is the same sort of circular reasoning that people use who
don't vote. "Oh, I don't vote because the fucking politicians are
all the same" is the functional equivalent of "Oh, I voted for Nader
in 2000 because the Democrats and the Republicans are the same."

Well, Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election. 'Nuff said.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 20, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think that treating a 'Democrat-leaning' independent is the same as a Democrat.

That's the problem up here in Canada. The vast majority of Canadians are certainly 'liberal' but to assume that means 'Liberal-party supporter' is wrong.

A pox on both houses is certainly the feelings. People support liberal causes yet can hate Democratic Party establishment and all they stand for. Just mention the topic of 'unionism' and you will soon find where the split is between an 'independent liberal' and a 'Democratic Party Supporter'.

Just my two cents worth.

Posted by: Michael on February 20, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you can't have it both ways here.

And neither can you, which was my real point. You have argued that independents are silly because by being unaligned with a specific party they are being ideologically incoherent. You later argue that "issues involve tradeoffs", which in effect argues that sometimes political entities have to compromise principles and "coherency" for the sake of expediency. And that's OK - it's a position I understand. However, you haven't made a case as to why being an independent is silly.

For my part, I am not a big fan of third parties even. I understand full well that the structure of our system of government makes it nearly impossible for anything but a two-party system - unlike in a parliamentary system, coalitions between disparate elements must be formed before the election. For a country that places so much rhetorical bluster behind the word "Democracy", it's funny how we have a system that subordinates it to "Stability" - which certainly is something that our system has, in a macro sense of the word. But it is not very representative of the people, and I consider myself among those who is not represented by it. That I should choose not to align myself with either party, even though I personally do share sympathies with elements of the opposition one, doesn't seem to me to be silly or unconsidered, but quite sensible.

Posted by: Irony Man on February 21, 2006 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Irony Man:

Okay, fair points. A couple responses:

First, there are really two broad kinds of voters who don't align themselves with the major parties. The first group is made up of people who are very passionate and self-conscious about their political ideas. These are the Greens, Socialists, Libertarians, American Taxpayers' Partyites, etc. These folks are *very* consistent, sometimes to the point of being ideologically rigid-minded. In this group you could also throw a lot of the Independents who feel aligned to a left-right ideology but refuse to join the Dems or the Reps because they feel these parties are too wimpy and/or ideologically compromising. I'm aligned in spirit with a lot of these kinds of folks; like I said, if we had national IRV, my first choices would probably be Greens.

I wouldn't call this group of nonaligned voters "silly." Maybe a little too rigid, a little too idealistic, a little lacking in a broad reading of political science and/or history -- but "silly" they're not. They're passionately involved patriots who believe very much in their views. If anything, they take their views a bit *too* seriously.

A subset of this group are people who *would* be members of one of the national party were it not for strong opposition on a valence issue, be it gun rights, abortion, gay rights, terrorism/civil liberties, etc. They just *can't* vote for the parties they agree with on most or nearly all issues otherwise, save for that one issue that they care about more than all others.

There is, however, another large group of nonaligned voters who I *would* call frivolous. These folks tend to be just as ideological, but they don't think in depth. They tend to become cynical and their votes are often driven by resentment. They're prone to gusts of enthusiasm about candidates and movements than can just as quickly cool. This kind of Indy made up a big part of the groundswells for Schwartzenegger, Ventura, Perot. They view politics as a species of hero worship, and often have a very dark picture of politics that they share with their more well-informed and ideological cousins -- but they tend to nurture hopes in an individual savior or movement that will sweep all the bums from power and start anew. Their beliefs are passionate but their ideology is shallow and all over the map; these are the folks I'd certainly call incoherent. The largest strain is a kind of radical populism, the sort of thing that allowed the Reform Party to embrace both Lenora Fulani and Pat Buchanan.

Bob

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