Move over, Democrats and Republicans, a record number of Americans have abandoned the idea of having to choose one side or the other and are now self-identifying as “independent.” An annual Gallup poll shows that 42% of Americans declined to align with either of the major parties in 2013.
How will the fact that the plurality of U.S. citizens are independent change the political landscape? Here are five significant changes to look for in the future:
1. Shift Away from Conservatism
For those keeping score, it’s Republicans who have taken the biggest hit as people drop their allegiance to a political party. Just 25% of Americans now identify as Republicans, down from 34% a decade ago. The current rate is the lowest for Republicans in 30 years.
The plunge doesn’t come as a surprise considering the Republican Party’s tarnished reputation. Seen by many as uncompromising and uncompassionate, the party’s move further to the right may appease the conservative fringe groups, but it is coming at the expense of its moderate members. If Republicans want to win back their numbers at large, they’ll have to abandon these rigid, clearly off-putting stances.
2. Lower Voter Turn-Out
Still, it’d be incorrect to assume that a drop in Republicans means the Democratic platform will prevail. Though not as drastically as their counterparts, Democrats have also lost support, dropping 5% in just 5 years to 31%. People aren’t necessarily becoming much more liberal, just more disenchanted.
With or without overwhelming support, the two-party system maintains a stranglehold on democracy. Left off the ballot and out of national debates, it’s likely that a good portion of the independents will step away from politics altogether and vote in lower numbers. “The lesser of two evils” isn’t a convincing enough argument for people who have grown tired of both parties’ nonsense, and they may continue to stay away until a viable alternative is offered.
3. The Fall Dip of the Two Party System
As nice as it may be to dream of a different future – the two-party system is so institutionalized at this point that it’s perhaps unrealistic to think it will disappear even without the support of nearly half of Americans. However, the more disillusioned the plurality of voters become with both parties, the more likely we’ll see this dominance ebb.
Importantly, that ebb will leave some wiggle room. As a result, we could see more independent candidates have a legitimate chance at being elected. Only once more non-Republican or Democratic candidates take office and complicate the “one side or the other” narrative will the very foundation begin to crumble.
4. Politicians Breaking Ranks with Their Parties
With so many unaffiliated voters up for grabs, politicians will need to pay attention to the wants and needs of their constituents more than they did previously. Though tradition dictates that politicians side with their party’s prescribed philosophy for most decisions, strategically, they’re likely to win more support by breaking ranks.
It might not always be about their stances on a particular issue, but the fact that they’re differentiating themselves from the pack in general. Independents tend to have more respect for independent-minded people, so by proving they aren’t party puppets, lawmakers can earn favor with those who aren’t committed to a political party.
5. Regulations on Corporations and the Wealthy
While Americans overwhelmingly want Wall Street reform, an end to tax breaks for the wealthy and a general stop to economic injustice, Republicans and Democrats are still the two biggest supporters of the 1%. Because money talks in politics, both main parties are beholden to the wealthy and work to maintain the massive inequality that is now a signature of American culture.
With no party to support, look for politically active citizens to take up specific issues instead. The powers-that-be may want to shut down the conversation on inequality, but that’s unrealistic as long as the ensuing problems persist. In the end, parties will either have to listen to the will of the people on this matter or citizens will learn to circumvent them altogether in order to make real, meaningful change.