Join our Discord!


Independent Voters
Independent Cause

Understanding Independent Voters: Their Impact on American Politics

20 min read
Independent Voters
Good Party Politics Team · Apr 26, 2023


Partisan divides in USA today are wider than they have ever been in the modern political era. But what about the larger voting bloc without partisan identification and does not identify with any of the popular parties, and how do they impact American politics and democratic processes?

This question does not have a direct answer. First, they are pursued by politicians for their ability to swing elections and an apparent nonpartisan behavior. However, they are also at times dismissed as “closet partisans” and ignored for their low political engagements. Consequently, several political science analyses of American voters either entirely remove them or combine the leaners who lean toward particular party with weak partisans. This positions the researchers who study these independents in strange positions as they try to understand the roles and impacts of independents in American politics.

Independent Voters and American Politics: Their Increasing Importance

Partisan divides in USA today are wider than they have ever been in the modern political era. But what about the larger voting bloc without partisan identification and does not identify with any of the popular parties, and how do they impact American politics and democratic processes?

This question does not have a direct answer. First, they are pursued by politicians for their ability to swing elections and their apparent nonpartisan behavior. However, they are also at times dismissed as “closet partisans” and ignored for their low political engagements.

Consequently, several political science analyses of American voters either entirely remove them or combine the leaners who lean toward a particular party with weak partisans. This positions the researchers who study these independents in strange positions as they try to understand the roles and impacts of independents in American politics.

Independent Voters and American Politics: Their Increasing Importance

From a political science viewpoint, an independent voter is an American electorate that does not support any one political party. They make up a large portion of American voters and have increased their influence on the political landscape and democratic processes in the country. In some states, independents have overtaken the Democratic party and Republican identifiers in ballot registration. Only the major parties dominated the political landscape decades ago, and could file their candidates on the ballots: the Democrats and the Republicans.

Independent voting maintains a balance of power during any particular election, allowing them to influence the democratic processes with their vote and voice. To win their support and votes, every politician and political party needs demographic information about this voter base and their considerations when they cast their ballot. Consequently, election strategies and political science are changing in response to the independent vote's growing importance in the democratic process of voting. Parties are therefore working to appeal to a larger independent voter base in all elections.

What function does an independent serve? One of the most significant elements is voters' impact on the political environment and elections through their unpredictable voting pattern. These voters often decide closely contested elections by voting in a particular direction, depending on the ideologies of a particular politician without much consideration of whether the politician is from the democratic or republican divide. Therefore, political scientists have taken a special interest in this. They are now focusing on winning independent voters rather than just appealing to their party supporters.

Additionally, an independent often holds a wide range of opinions on political subjects, as opposed to democrats and Republicans who only subscribe to their party’s opinions and ideologies. They judge politicians and politics more on their accomplishments and less on party ideology or party allegiance. This will lead to more cautious political discussions and stop various parties from dominating politics, creating a democratic process where many people can vie in various elections.

How Independent Voters Differ from Party Members and Their Wide Range of Political Attitudes

Independent Voters: A Definition

What are independent voters? Any voter who does not identify with a major party (either Republican or Democratic) is an independent voter. In an election, such a voter may lean toward either way but does not exclusively identify as a Republican or a Democrat. A 2023 Gallup (an American journal) poll found that 49% of registered voters are independent, 25% are Democrats, and 25% are in the Republican party. These figures are confirmed by another American journal, the Washington Post.

Variations from Partisans

An American electorate who identifies with and supports a particular party is called a partisan. Such a voter is more inclined to support their party's ideologies and their voting pattern is along party lines. Political science argues that partisans have a definite tie to a specific party, unlike independents, and it can be generally predicted how they will cast their ballot. The significant differences between the two groups include voting patterns and influence on democratic processes such as voting. This distinguishes an independent from a partisan voter because independents are more likely to engage in independent research and issue-based discussions than political processes before voting or participating in other democratic processes in the country.

Different Political Attitudes

Due to their wide range of political beliefs and opinions concerning elections and voter representation, an independent makes it challenging to predict their voting patterns and how they will cast their ballot.

While some independents have more moderate or center-of-the-road opinions, a majority of them are more adamant about their convictions when casting the ballot: they are fed up with the two-party system and think that neither Republicans nor the Democrats can adequately represent the interests of the American voter.

Independent is resistant to partisan messaging because they tend to think more objectively and consider democratic processes than partisan voters. They often base decisions on the personalities of a politician and their job performance rather than the party's virtues.

Because of this, it is more challenging to persuade them or win their vote using traditional campaign strategies; instead, a more subtle strategy is needed if one is to get their ballot.

The Increasing Number of Independent Voters

The rise of self-identified independent voters has been a major factor in the dramatic changes in the American democratic processes in recent years. An unfavorable view from the two parties is the primary cause of the rise in independent voting in the US.

A larger majority of Americans are unsatisfied with the deeply ingrained political systems of both the Republican and Democratic parties. This is because they do not address common people's needs and issues, and only focus on winning ballots and elections. As a result, a majority of voters make independent choices and reject traditional party affiliations with the Republicans and the Democrats. Such voters have become more prevalent recently for a variety of reasons. The growing polarization of politics in America is the most critical point of consideration for them during each election.

According to political science, they believe that neither party represents their opinions and values, even though the two major political parties are drifting farther apart on the political spectrum. As a result, these voters look for other independents who can address their needs, whether they are Republicans, Democrats, or independent candidates. The rise in self-identified independents is also a result of shifting U.S. demographic data. Scholars developed that the likelihood that minorities and young voters identify with a major political party is declining as the numbers of these voters rise. In addition, the political landscape becomes more diverse. This diversity points to a rise in independents who have broader representations in the country.

The Rise of Independent Voters in the United States: Historical Context

The two-party system has dominated politics in America since the country became a democratic republic. The Federalists and Democratic-Republicans were the first two parties in the United States in the middle of the 19th century, followed by the Whigs and the Democrats. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The two-party system has been the main form of political organization for a sizable portion of American history. These voters have become more prevalent in recent decades since the 1960s. The rise of independents was influenced by several occasions, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal. Ross Perot, an independent for president in 1992, marked a pivotal moment in American voters' history by winning 19% of the popular vote.

Factors Contributing to the Rise in Independent Voters

One of the main reasons why there are more self-identified independent voters today is that party loyalty is declining as more people are dissatisfied with the ideologies of the Republican and Democratic parties. In the past, voters supported a single party on the ballot and also always supported its causes. But as voters' dissatisfaction with the two major political parties has grown in recent years, party loyalty experienced a consequent decline. As a result, an independent who is not affiliated with any party can now have a big influence on the political process.

However, the rise in independents is also attributed to growing partisan identification. The ideological polarization of the two major political parties is growing, and the proportion of voters whose ideologies are not shared by either party is rising. An independent voter is a crucial swing vote in many elections because such a voter tends to have more moderate political views. They are willing to consider both parties. Additionally, the growth of social media and technological advancements have made it easier for an independent to learn about issues that transcend beyond the traditional Republican and Democrat party systems. This growth gives them more freedom to determine their political preferences and strengthens them as voting blocs.

The Role of Independent Voters in Elections

Why is it crucial to have independents? The answer lies in their capacity to influence any particular election in either direction both with how they vote and how they influence the party ideologies of the Democrats and the Republicans. These voters are a crucial swing vote that impacts elections. This is because both major political parties rely on more than just their supporter bases to participate in politics by casting their ballots in favor of the particular party. These voters have been extremely influential in recent elections in determining the winner.

Consequently, both Democratic and Republican candidates should appeal to the special interests of such a voter. These voters have a big influence on any particular election, but also on elections in America in general. Since both dominant parties have supporters, independents are frequently used as a gauge of societal sentiment. As a result, both the platforms and policies of the major political parties and third parties can be influenced by their voting behavior. Lastly, self-identified independents have a great deal of influence on public discourse and political discourse on key issues. An independent will push for practical solutions to the country's most pressing issues.

The Impact of Independent Voters on Election Outcomes

An independent significantly influences presidential and congressional elections. Particularly in states where the presidential field is typically closed, an independent can influence who becomes president. For instance, the Republican Donald Trump won the crucial swing state of Florida in the 2016 presidential election by less than 1%. Nearly 25% of state voters were independents. Key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin helped Donald Trump win on election day and take over from Barack Obama, and independent voting was a major factor in his victory.

Independent voters' impact on congressional elections represents a balance of power between the House and the Senate. For instance, independents significantly contributed to the transfer of several House seats to the Democratic party during the 2018 midterm elections. Exit polls show independents gave Democratic candidates a 12-percentage point advantage in these contests. This helped Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives over their Republican counterparts.

The Two Major Parties' Strategies and How Independent Voters Can Impact Them

Election results can impact the two main political parties. Politics and politicians alike must consider independents if they are to win the election. In contrast to a party that ignores independents, parties that court independents have a strong chance of winning on the ballot. Independent voters can also impact party strategies for both the Democrats and their Republican counterparts. Therefore, parties must alter their policies and messages. These voters may modify each party's platform if they have concerns about particular issues. A more moderate policy might win over more voters. These voters can affect both the two main party politics and the political system as a whole. They may make it increasingly difficult for any party to win a majority in an election and increase the need for cooperation and bipartisanship. Depending on the parties involved and the nature of the issue, this may have both positive and negative effects.

By promising to cast their ballot for a politician from another party, an independent can also influence American policy. Third-party politicians target independents who don't feel represented by partisan politics. Although third-party politicians rarely win on the ballot, their politics and platforms can impact the major parties. According to political science, third-party politicians can bring special interests to issues that the major political parties do not address, which could result in changes to policies and government regulations as well as deeper political discussions. These voters can impact an election in America by participating in the democratic process through their ballots. It is more important for an independent to make decisions based on issues rather than party affiliation. They also consider issues before making choices. This might lead to more informed and involved voters, which is essential for a strong democracy.

Independent Voters' Voting Patterns and Behavior

It is quite a challenge to predict an independent because they do not belong to a political party. But one of the most striking patterns among independents is that they tend to lean toward one political party or another when casting their ballot even though they are not formally affiliated with that party.

This means that even though they aren't members of the Democratic party or the Republican party, such a voter might frequently support either a Democrat or a Republican. Independent voters, for instance, were essential to Joe Biden's victory in several crucial states during the 2020 presidential campaign and on election day. Exit polls show independents in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania contributed to Joe Biden's eventual victory and election as president.

An independent often places particular issues above party officials. For instance, such a voter would prioritize health, the economy, and climate change over party officials. This implies that a Republican who emphasizes these issues can garner support from an independent even if he disagrees with his party.

The same applies to a Democrat. Finally, an independent is more likely to be swayed by a candidate's morals, principles, and job performance than by their party's virtues. This suggests that a Republican or Democrat who possesses these qualities can win the ballot of an independent voter even if he or she does not entirely support their party's platform.

Challenges Independent Voters Face

Independent voters have become increasingly influential in determining election outcomes as U.S. policy becomes more divisive; however, being an independent voter is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges independents face is a lack of information about issues.

The media and political systems highlight the most relevant issues for each party. This is in a system with only two major city parties. An independent may feel left out as a result, and they may not know where to turn for unbiased information to cast their ballot based on issues. An independent may therefore be less likely to cast a ballot or do so without a reason. Independents also face government representation issues. A party is more concerned with appealing to its base than an independent in a system where the winner takes it all.

This suggests that a Republican or Democrat who prioritizes their party's supporters may ignore independents. Therefore, an independent might feel their opinion is not heard in politics and lose faith, never casting their ballot again.

The Challenges Independent Voters Face in the Electoral Process

Independent voters encounter difficulties in the electoral process as the United States' political climate becomes more polarized between the Democrats and their Republican counterparts. These voters face barriers to fully participating in the democratic process by voting despite making up a growing portion of the electorate.

Major political parties often disregard them. Another big challenge independents face is voter registration. In many states, voter registration for a party is required to vote in open primaries. An independent is limited to casting their ballot in the general election and not to open primaries. Since open primaries largely determine which candidates will appear on the general election ballot, this can be a significant disadvantage for an independent.

Moreover, these voters still encounter challenges in closed primaries because only registered Democrats and Republican party members can vote in primaries in many states and democratic parties. It is therefore hard for an independent to vote in the open primaries or the general election.

The Impact of Public Opinion and the Media on Independent Voters' Perceptions

The media is incredibly critical to influencing public support, especially how each citizen casts their ballot. People's perceptions of candidates and political issues can be greatly influenced by how the media covers news and topics. An independent who has less ideological ties to a particular party is especially affected by this. Therefore, he is more susceptible to public opinion and media coverage than to party identification.

Another way the media shapes independent voters' perceptions is through opinion polls. By highlighting the trends and patterns of the opinions of independents, polls conducted by media organizations and research institutions and that are published in each popular American journal can affect public support and how each voter casts their ballot.

For example, you can induce a bandwagon effect where other voters join up and cast their ballot for a popular politician. In most opinion polls, independent voters tend to lean toward a specific party. An independent, however, might also react in the opposite direction to polls as they might feel that their votes are meaningless if polls show that one candidate is significantly ahead in the race. Consequently, they may not turn up to cast their ballot. This is particularly when an independent thinks their preferred candidate has a slim chance of winning.

The other way to use the media to sway the opinions of an independent and influence how they cast a ballot is to cover political issues and events. The way questions are framed by the media can affect how an independent voter views an issue. For instance, if a media outlet portrays stories about a candidate's political proposals in a negative light, an independent is less likely to cast their ballot in favor of the candidate, even if the political proposal is agreeable.

Media coverage influences independent voters' perceptions of the two major political parties: independent voters may be less likely to cast a ballot for a party if the media portrays it as more extreme or out of touch with their opinions. As independents make up a sizable portion of the electorate in swing states, this can have a significant impact on election outcomes.

Independent Voters and the Future of American Politics

A serious party cannot ignore independents' growing demographic importance in American politics and on the ballot. As independents become more prevalent, their impact on the ballot will increase and, in ways still unclear, they will shape future American policy.

Each party must change to appeal to this critical demographic as their numbers grow. As a result, there may be a shift away from the extreme polarization that historically characterized American elections toward more targeted policies. However, how independents will affect U.S. politics, in the long run, is still unknown.

The Future of American Politics and Independent Voters: Potential Effects

One of the potential effects of independents on the future of American politics is the ability of a political party to realign to win at the ballot. When a sizable portion of voters switch their allegiance from one party and lean toward another, the balance of power is called a realigning election.

One or both of the dominant parties may fall out of favor due to independent voter casting their ballot for a third party or a fresh political movement. An independent also influences party dealignment. In a situation known as a dealigning election, a voter has fewer ties to a party.

He is more likely to change their support from one election to the next. As a result, the political landscape may become more fluid, forcing parties to adjust to changing voter preferences. Several factors can cause a party to realign or dealine to win on the ballot.

One of the factors is the changing demographics of American voters. The traditional two-party system may change as the nation grows more diverse and younger generations become more politically engaged. Furthermore, issues like social justice, income inequality, and climate change might become more significant for an independent. This would cause a party to realign around these issues.

The Effects of a More Polarized Political Environment on Independent Voters' Ability to Influence Policy Issues

It has been developing for a while that political polarization will eventually manifest itself in the US. The two biggest parties have become more ideologically distinct over the past few decades, with fewer members falling somewhere in the middle. As a result, there is less desire for bipartisanship and compromise in the political environment, and political issues are frequently framed in terms of the party. An influential voting bloc in this election seems to be independents. These voters have no affiliation with a major party and can influence congressional and presidential elections. A significant force in all elections, independents make up about one-third of American voters, according to recent election data.

Independent voters occasionally impact political issues, but this is unclear. Additionally, an independent can persuade politicians to take more reasonable, consensus-based positions. Politicians may take positions that are less ideologically rigid and more pragmatic when they recognize the importance of winning these swing votes.

Independent voters, meanwhile, encounter many challenges when influencing political issues. They lack the same institutional support as Republicans because they cannot coexist with either of the two major parties. They might not be able to use the major networks of donors, media outlets, or organizations connected to party organizations. Furthermore, an independent may find it more challenging to be heard because they lack a clear political identity. An independent may feel forced to choose between two difficult options in a politically polarized environment. Politicians who prioritize winning over their constituency rather than wooing swing voters may make them feel like they are taking their votes for granted.

Ready to make a difference?

Learn about volunteer opportunities to support people-powered candidates running near you.
Frame 6


Independent Voters
Independent Movement
Voter Education
Independent Voters
By Good Party Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.