Meet the New Independents
Carolyn is a Republican from Boston. In the past, she had voted enthusiastically for her party’s candidates, but she voted for Donald Trump with trepidation. “I didn’t like either candidate,” she explained, “and so, despite his offensive comments, I went with the anti-politician. The notion of draining the swamp was just really exciting to me, and I saw the Hillary Clinton as the president of the swamp.” Carolyn also voted for Trump because she wanted lower taxes, less regulation, and a more conservative Supreme Court.
She is still hopeful, but she now believes that Trump turned out to be worse than she had imagined. “Each week, there is a newsworthy event that takes my breath away, and I feel like he is running this country like a dictatorship. I like that the stock market is up, but now I wonder whether I should have voted at all.”
Ron is a Democrat from Miami. He voted for Clinton, but is dismayed at how his party has moved so far to the left. “Free college?” he asks. “Do I really want to spend my tax dollars helping middle-class parents, who didn’t want to save money like I did, send their children to a college at no charge? And with all of our challenges and the federal debt, can we even afford the programs that are proposed on the Democratic platform?”
Ron hates the content of Trump’s tweets, but he is most dismayed by what he believes to be an erosion of our status as a global leader under this president. On the other hand, he adds, “The Democrats are not showing leadership on any front. They have gone limp.”
Meet the New Independents: citizens from both parties who are disenchanted with both sides. Although most of the political narrative these days focuses on how divided we are, my data reveal that nearly 60 percent of our country is in this group. They are disgusted with President Trump’s braggadocio and volatility, but they see the Democrats as “old and tired faces with old and tired ideas.” Says Derek from Philadelphia, “My dismay with the Democratic leadership — an oxymoron — is more than matched by my disdain for the direction of the GOP.”
This is important for two reasons. First, these voters are up for grabs. Most say that they would vote outside of their party for leaders who care about country over politics, who have innovative solutions to our problems, and who cater to more than the most powerful and wealthy in America. The Democrats among them applaud Governor John Kasich of Ohio, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina for their willingness to cross party lines. The Republicans among them talk about how they would be open to voting for former vice president Joe Biden if he ran in 2020 — or Bill Peduto, the Pittsburgh mayor who transformed that city from a steel town to a vibrant center of “eds and meds.”
Second, my math reveals that we have an opportunity to focus, not on how divided we are, but on our common ground. When we focus on the extremes of each party — the voters who believe Trump can do no wrong or the voters who have “Not My President” tattooed on their arms — we can draw the wrong conclusions.
The Trump base among those in my ongoing research group often comment that most Democrats are rioting and protesting and even more, that they do not believe Trump is a legitimate president. That’s just not true. Of the 200 Clinton voters in my research, only 3 are not willing to acknowledge Trump as our president.
Conversely, many progressives perceive that Trump supporters are intellectually lazy, and unwilling to educate themselves about the reality of what is happening in the world. Yet, of the 200 Trump voters in my research, 82 percent read extensively about the issues of the day, and many report flipping back and forth among the various television stations to get a sense of what is real and not. Only 4 percent of those Trump voters support the president unconditionally, whereas most are concerned about his self-absorption, his thin skin, and his reckless tweets.
While we are divided at the edges, many citizens are just plain fed up with the gridlock, the blaming, the resistance, and the notion that, as one voter said, “Neither party represents me or my generation.”
There is more nuance than what we often hear from the media. Dan, a Kentucky Republican, wants to repeal Obamacare, but is demanding more gun control. Deb, a Democrat from Oregon, hates the idea of lowering corporate taxes and lifting regulations, but is against sanctuary cities. Mohamad, a Trump voter from North Carolina, supports the immigration ban, but is intensely concerned about the White House’s dealings with Russia. Alice from Georgia is concerned about the elimination of environmental regulations, and supportive of a significantly higher military budget.
What would an independent movement look like? Rather than seeing us as red and blue, it would focus on the very large swath of the population that is purple. These citizens are hungry for new leaders who operate with the courage of their convictions, who are fed up with insider politics, and who are willing to compromise for a government that works well. A majority of these New Independents want to fix the drawbacks of the Affordable Care Act even as they build on its strengths. Only a few want to eliminate the investment tax for the wealthiest. They want fewer handouts for people who are not willing to work hard. They want progress on infrastructure investment and less talk of a wall at the Mexican border. Some are abortion-rights proponents and some are antiabortion, but most talk about the seriousness of a decision to have an abortion, and they see progress in the news that rates of abortion are at a historic low.
It’s time to pay more attention to this group. Many of them believe that the 2016 election was about voting for the lesser of two evils, between two candidates who had integrity issues. They now want leaders who are driven by a commitment to helping others rather than a commitment to party and ego. And they will support politicians who, instead of immediately trafficking in blame or criticism, are ready to work to solve our country’s problems.
Clarification: The voters in this column were given pseudonyms to protect their identity.