The Rise of Independents

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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86 Responses

  1. Cascadian says:

    I’m not sure if I follow. Could you give an example of one of these micro communities? I follow ski racing. I’ve had fun checking in here again. I like TAC. Do these count as micro communities? How does this translate to politics?

    I’ve voted Libertarian the last few go arounds. One of the nice things about living in a safe district/State. Are we talking about parties like the LP?Report

    • Rod in reply to Cascadian says:

      I associate with the Georgist’s, communicate with the Distributist’s (a bit Popey for my taste), consider myself a monetary reformer along the lines of Steven Zarlenga, and have a love-hate relationship with the libertarians.

      If any of that has you going, huh?, then that’s probably what he means.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Cascadian says:


      Followers of ski racing would probably be a micro community. Devotees of Dave Ramsey might be another. Micro wouldn’t necessarily only apply to the size of the community. Often it’s the thing they all have in common which can be incredibly niche. But often it is mainstream too.Report

  2. NewDealer says:

    Some initial thoughts and reactions:

    1. Where are the independent candidates? They happen from time to time like Angus King in Maine and Bernie Sanders in Vermont but I haven’t seen many say they are running as independent for state legislature, city council, the House of Representatives, etc. Being an independent is hard. Being a member of a party means access to the DSCC, RNCC, or whatever cofers.

    2. I agree that the parties are at an all time low with their popularity.

    3. Paradox of 2: More and more congress people are being reelected with outstanding margins of victory. Some of this could be from gerrymandering but people tend to like their congress person while disliking the rest.

    4. I will believe in the rise of independents when I see it.

    5. Maybe the libertarians but independents is largely so vague and over-compassing to be meaningless. An independent can be a true Socialist/Communist, he/she can be a Libertarian, he/she can be a Paleocon, or an Anarchist-Syndicalist, etc. People tend to assume independent= somewhat socially moderate to liberal but fiscally conservative. This is not necessarily true.

    6. Studies and polls have also shown a lot of people like to think of themselves as independents but they are really Republicans or Democratic. Largely Republican leaning.Report

    • Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

      I know Debra Medina is at least contemplating a run for governor in Texas as an independent. I suspect she’s pretty typical of the sorts of people who will run as independents in ’16: Republicans who either lose primaries or know they had no chance of gaining the nomination in the first place, so they run as independents. It’s probably going to essentially be either Tea Party Republicans running as independents against more moderate Republicans (though in Texas, Abbot is pretty Tea Party himself, at least this year; he’s Rick Perry’s chosen successor), or more moderate Republicans running as independents against Tea Party Republicans. In other words, they won’t be real “independent” candidates: they’ll all end up working or caucusing with Republicans once in office. It’ll just be another step on the Republican Party’s path towards sorting itself out.

      Also, that 1/3 number is likely a gross overestimate, unless it includes local elections, in which case I bet it’s pretty typical. I could see independent candidates for state offices and congress getting a nationwide vote share just out of the single digits, but not above 15% or so.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:

        If your first paragraph is true, it should help Democratic candidates/politicians because the right-ward vote will be split.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        It might help them in some places. It won’t help them in Texas. In fact, given the money involved in these things, I’d bet that most of these “challenges” by independents will occur in places where Democrats still won’t have a chance.

        As for Medina specifically, I can’t imagine her getting more than 5%, and Abbot is likely to beat Davis by 6-12 points in a straight head-to-head matchup. Again, I bet this will be pretty typical of these challenges by these Republicans independents.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Chris says:

        Probably not in Texas or Mississippi but you never know. Alaska has a Democratic Senator now. I can see it helping in a lot of states that are considered strong red.Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:

      +1 on ND’s comment, with an extra emphasis that independents comprise too varied a group to make a party out of.

      If a third party arises anytime soon, I think it will be a Tea Party split from the GOP.

      I do think independents are a long term trend. The numbers have been growing for some time, and both in consequence and as a further cause, our institutions have changed to further promote it, particularly the rise of non-exclusive primaries.Report

    • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      You get Libertarians all over the place in Texas, for local elections. Mostly where there is no Democratic Candidate.
      You’ve got a Prohibition Party still…

      You get greens in San Francisco.Report

  3. Rod says:

    I hear ya, Mike. I have at various times registered as a Democrat, Independent, and Libertarian. Currently I’m fairly content with the Democrats but that’s as much to do with the current insanity of the Republicans and thr fact that most people that identify as Independents are actually disaffected Republicans (absolutely no offense intended, but that ain’t me).

    As to your first question, it seems to me that the Dems are a bigger and saner tent than the Republicans are likely to be for a while, at least until they get their shit sorted out. They may or may not get Indies as registered members but they’ll get their vote.

    Case in point: Our hard-right winger, TP darling governor, former senator Sam Brownback, is trailing significantly in early polling behind the Democratic challenger Paul Davis. Republicans have a numerical advantage over Dems, but Davis has the Independents by about 2 to 1.Report

    • Kim in reply to Rod says:

      Man, you’re from Kansas? Just go ahead and register Republican already.
      You ought to have SOME influence in local elections.
      (Registering Republican just gives you access to their primaries, after all.
      You can still vote Democratic all you like in the general).

      [I am a registered Democrat. The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy meddles
      in the Democratic Primary around here. (yes, I do get a little giggle
      out of calling Scaife that.)]Report

  4. Alan Scott says:

    Lets be honest. Absent weird corner cases and republican infighting where one of the candidates is technically an independent, Those 33% of voter aren’t actually going to vote for an independent candidate.

    Their either going to vote for one of the two major parties, or (more likely) they’re just going to stay at home.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Alan Scott says:

      I agree, and that’s what worries me. The polling IS interesting – as far as it goes – but many of these Independents are essentially out of the process until the general election since they are generally prohibited from voting in primaries and participating in nominating conventions and caucuses. the Green party has had some SMALL success in local and state races overcoming this structural bias, but as a “to the left of the Democrats” liberal, I still register as a Democrat so I can participate in all aspects of the election process. Few truly independent candidates have the financial backing to overcome this systemic challenge, which is why they generally don’t succeed. Thus, I doubt there’s anyone “out there” who can capture the independents as a block.Report

  5. Michael Drew says:

    “Independent” is a word that people like. I saw this poll this morning as well, and I am skeptical. I’m sure the intention to vote independent is up. I doubt 30% of voters are going to vote for neither a Democrat nor a Republican for Congress, though. Part and parcel of the phenomenon in which Congress as a 10% approval rating and 90% of them are reelected every two years is an ability to convince oneself of the “independence” of one’s representative from the problems that lead one to have such a low opinion of the institution, irrespective of their party affiliation. People have the ability to see their major-party representatives as “independent enough” to make them feel like they’re not voting for a party hack, despite his/her membership. If we look at the poll, this is reflected in the data it lists from previous times when this question was asked in this poll, where it appears to show that it’s not uncommon for 25% to profess similar intentions, although the data listed are from three surveys in the middle of 2010, and that’s all the history of this question listed on this poll report for some reason. (I’m sure that over the course of a decade or two, the rise of people expressing this inclination has gone up over time. But as we’re about to see, this doesn;t actually mean that their votes are really up for grabs in the kind of numbers these polls suggest.)

    So, let’s look at what a happened in the 2010 election, just before which this same poll listed 25% of people stating an intention to “vote for […] an independent or third party candidate for Congress”:,_2010#Results_summary

    96.57% of voters who voted in elections for House representative voted for either a Republican or a Democrat. So perhaps next year, only 94% of them will?

    People like to think of themselves and their representatives as being independent of things they don’t like. But insofar as the major parties work to advance the interests of particular parts of the population (the parts that vote for them) and to block the efforts of other parties to enact policies those segments see as harmful to their interests, people tend to vote for representatives of those parties. And the more major the party, the more effective it is at advancing and protecting those interests. Given our plurality-take-all system of representation in any given district, whatever their fonder wishes might be, ultimately a very high percentage of people are going to find that, to the extent they think their vote matters, it makes the most sense from the perspective of their individual interests (which may, though, be only a part of the reason why they bother to vote), to vote a member of for one of major parties rather than an independent or a third-party representative.Report

    • Damon in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Spot on.

      Most independents are really. Those that really are outside the political mainstream are the fringe groups-or they don’t vote at all.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Damon says:

        Another thing to add in here is that it’s pretty likely that the people who were polled here and gave the “Independent or third party” answer are disproportionately likely compared to the whole sample not to vote. So if this poll were done of people literally walking into the voting booth (even if the election were today), my expectation is that the number expressing the intention to vote independent or third party would come in lower than what this shows (and then the actual number who do so even a bit lower still).Report

      • Kim in reply to Damon says:

        yeah, that’s at least in part because it’s hard to claim you’re independent when you just voted straight ticket Dem.
        Cognitive dissonance.
        Independent is a way of saying “look, I kinda care about a lot of issues, i’m not just a pull the lever and vote D sort of guy”Report

    • I doubt 30% of voters are going to vote for neither a Democrat nor a Republican for Congress, though.

      Not just doubt, I will be astounded if Democrats and Republicans combined get only 70% of the votes cast for US Representatives in 2014. According to Wikipedia, Dems plus Republicans got 96.6% of all votes for the 435 seats plus 6 non-voting members in 2012, 96.6% in 2010, and 95.8% in 2010. My standard bet on political results is a small beer — and I’m certainly willing to bet that on the D+R vote in 2014 being ≥95%.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Excellent point.Report

      • And on Twitter, CK MacLeod reminds me of Duverger’s First Law: plurality rule (generally speaking, first-past-the-post) in a single-representative district system will produce a two-party rather than a multi-party system. So as a thought experiment, I picked a state — Arizona — and looked at the most recent U.S. House elections there. An imperfect lens, because the reality is that Arizona is broken up into nine first-past-the-post districts.

        The real-life delegation consists of the first-past-the-post winners of nine discrete districts: 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans; the top nine vote-getters overall are 6 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Overall, 1,131,663 votes were cast for Republican candidates, 946,994 votes were cast for Democratic candidates, and 94,670 votes were cast for third parties (of which 86,639 were cast for Libertarians).

        If proportional voting had been used, it would be the top 5 Republicans and the top 4 Democrats, which would have resulted in only one change from the real-life delegation, which would have been with the exception that Republican Martha McSally, the loser of the 2nd district election, would take the place of Democrat Raul Grijalva, the real-life winner of the 3rd district.

        I fully realize that if there had been top-nine-overall voting rather than nine discrete first-past-the-post districts, voters would no doubt have behaved differently. But how much?

        In real life, the largest non-major party candidate was Joe Cobb, who ran as a Libertarian in the 7th District, one in which the Republicans did not even bother to field a candidate against Ed Pastor (the district consists of mainly the urban core of Phoenix and a chunk of Tempe which, if I’m not mistaken, includes Arizona State University). Cobb got 23,338 votes in the most lopsided defeat in the whole state — and without any Republican siphoning off votes. But even if Cobb were credited with all of the third-party votes (some were for a Green candidate) the 4.4% of overall votes would not have been enough in a proportional system to have earned him a seat.

        We could run the same numbers for the country as a whole, I suppose. But at that point, we’ve dispensed with the idea of proportional representation of the population of the states and we’ve walked away from a political compromise at the foundation of the Constitution.

        We could also run similar numbers on a state-by-state level. Perhaps doing so would result in a shift of partisan control of the House from Republicans to Democrats. But I strongly doubt it would generate more than a token number of third party members of the House, which is the situation we have now. The disparity between major party votes and third party votes is huge.

        So it’s still a matter of faith, it seems to me, whether a third party candidate would be able to gain a seat in Congress. My faith is that @michael-cain is right — a proportional system in the United States would still result in the two major parties totally dominating things notwithstanding a fundamental change in the structure and rules of elections.

        And doing this thought experiment cost me WAY too much time here at work, so I’ll have to check back on this most interesting discussion later today.Report

      • Burt, it’s likely that if we had a proportional voting system, the vote tallies would have turned out differently. There would have been fewer disincentives to vote for other parties because they’d have a chance of winning.

        That being said, even if we had proportional voting, we’d still be looking at two overwhelmingly dominant parties. You can’t really dig into third parties with PR for the senate because there are only two seats. Plus some states have only one, two, or three House seats. Plus, the presidency.

        So you might see a stray independent here or there, but that’s likely about it.Report

      • That’s a concise restatement of my point, @will-truman .Report

      • Which just goes to show what a wise person you are.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Cain says:


      • If I hadn’t seen an e-mail indicating that CK MacLeod had mentioned me by name, I’d have completely missed the Tweet. Also note that the tweet could only refer me to something else when I had to affirmatively seek out after reading the tweet; it was not, itself, much of an argument.

        But… so what? I never said twitter was something in which intelligent and useful communication was impossible. I’ve said that my experience is that the bulk of tweets are crap. And I thought we’d agreed on both of those points, and further that CK MacLeod’s tweets are (typically) not crap.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

        This is a cool thread, very interesting. Since you guys know more about this than I do, I have a question: would IRV affect the two-party stranglehold on politics?Report

      • Still,

        I wrote a big long comment but it got lost. I have a post I have been intending to write on the subject, so it’s something I have been thinking a lot about.

        The short answer to your question is that as long as we have the electoral college, it’s really hard to see any other change (IRV, proportional representation) taking hold. We don’t really do congressional parties (third parties always seem to focus on the presidency, which is a real mistake). So most likely, everything would fall into line behind the parties competing for the presidency.

        There is a patchwork solution of permanent coalitions and fusion tickets, where parties compete against one another in congressional races but then rally behind the same presidential candidate. This has its pluses and minuses (more of the former than the latter, in my view, by a mile) though isn’t the revolutionary change that people want because people would still end up picking between Team Red and Team Blue. But I think it would be enormously clarifying and productive for the body politic to have the ideas within each coalition actually running against one another (with the safety of runoffs) instead of occurring among strategists and pollsters, all of whom have skins in the game.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

        There is a patchwork solution of permanent coalitions and fusion tickets,

        And that’s the topic of your as-yet-unwritten post? Write the damn thing.

        Thanks for the response Will. I’m sure you’re probably right about all this, but I’m still ignorant. How does the electorate’s (psychological, behavioral) focus on presidential elections and the electoral college’s (institutional) re-entrenchment of duopolitics eviscerate the IRV? If the TP and radical contemporary cultural conservatism has given us anything to be optimistic about, it’s that local politics matters. It can lead to national influence.

        What do you think of the possibility of instituting IRV on a local/state-wide level as a way to dismantle the public’s infatuation with Presidential politics?Report

      • Still,

        A lot of it is my intuition, which should tell you that you shouldn’t be certain that you’re wrong! It’s essentially the belief that political structure flows downward. The local wants to align with the national. The county judge wants to be a state senator wants to be governor wants to be president. And all roads go through a national party with presidential prospects. Even if a particular guy knows that he’s too extreme or awkward or whatever to be president, he is going to need help along the way from people who want to keep on that path. So the strongest candidates and most connected individuals will want to be members of The Party (whichever one).

        I also think that large numbers of voters tend to vote even for legislative seats (even state legislative seats to express support for or disapproval of the president. We have independent senators, but one of the things they have to make very clear is which party they will caucus with. We value our independents, but not too much. The same would apply to parties. When the chips are down, American Labor Party, will you support the president or oppose him? Help push the president’s agenda or try to rein it in? (Which brings us back to the previous spot. Now you’re running for state senator, but though you know you’ll never be president do you want to be a congressman someday?)

        I also look towards Australia, which has had the IRV for almost 100 years. The only result of which, besides a few stray other-party members, is that on the conservative side you have two parties instead of one. Almost always aligned together and even merged in some states. Now, I personally think this would be an improvement and my own coalition+fusion is actually somewhat based on the Australian conservative coalition, but they nonetheless still essentially have a two-party system and that’s without a presidency to complicate things. If they had a presidency, I feel relatively certain that either the two parties would merge or the smaller party (National Party of Australia) would simply endorse the larger party’s (Liberal Party of Australia). Which also means that they’d want to vote in the LPA’s primary. Which, absent a mechanism to do that, means they probably end up joining to the LPA at the outset.

        All of which is why I think the issue of the presidency would need to be addressed. Probably.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Cain says:

        The vast majority of everything is crap (I think that’s a rule, too). I don’t recall that being all you were saying, but maybe I misunderstood.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Cain says:

        …Also, that was just meant as a humorous interjection, not a claim that this is a dispositive piece of evidence relating to our discussion.

        So far as it’s even relevant, like you say, it’s just an example of the productive aspect of the technology. If we agreed that 90% of Tweets are crap, the difference in view was whether the deleterious effects of the 90% on thought and expression were outweighed by the advantages of the format for facilitating rapid, multilateral, iterative communication among people discussing matters of real interest or importance. I certainly didn’t mean to say this proved that one way or the other. OTOH, I wasn’t 100% sure from the discussion that you even grokked the upside I was trying to communicate.Report

  6. Burt Likko says:

    I think the real issue that bars the rise of third parties or independent candidate as durable forces is not the structure of laws nor the difficulty in coalescing sufficient personal charisma and political coalitions nor in the difficulty of campaigning or governing without the support apparatus of a party. Good points, all.

    But ultimately it is in the culture, a culture that confronts complex issues and uncertain personalities by reducing matters to either/or questions. Our culture says, “Your choices are either Romney or Obama.” No they’re not, but that’s the cultural presumption.

    Even a third option like “not voting at all” is something that the culture finds distasteful even if a lot of people actually do that, sort of like pornography. Actually voting for a third party is generally deemed an affirmatively silly thing to do.

    So don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Burt Likko says:

      so summarizing – you see this as a socio-cultural issue with systemic expression?Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I disagree, I think that the structure of American politics, our first past the post-district based electoral system, and how we finance elections favors a two party system. There are very high entry barriers for independents and third parties in the American electoral system. New parties enter the system to fill the vaccum caused by another party’s suicide. The last time this happened was when the GOP replaced the Whigs. Otherwise third parties get absorbed into one of the major parties, like the Populists getting absorbed into the Democratic Party or are electorally irrelevant besides a couple of seats here and there like the Socialists during the late 19th and early 20th century or the Greens and Libertarians now. The costs of running for office tends to favor either the wealthy or people connected or candidates from the Democratic or Republican party. A real leftist might be able to run and win in a college town and a libertarian could do well in a suburban or rural county but otherwise both are out of luck.

      The structure of American politics also doesn’t favor more than two parties. A Congress that consists of everybody from Communists to Fascists and an independently elected President isn’t going to function well even to fulfill the most basic requirements of governance like approving judges and diplomats let alone the more complex tasks required.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        So if we had a different structure word there be substantially greater partisan diversity? I think not — people like and can understand either/or choices better. Even in massively multi partisan systems, it often seems to come down to either/or. So my belief is that no matter how we restructure the rules, there would still be two and only two dominant parties.

        Admittedly, this is a question of faith rather than of evidence.Report

      • Rod in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @burt-likko , this seems empirically discoverable. How does it tend to work out in the parliamentary democracies? I doubt the American psyche is vastly different.

        But even if most folks would gravitate towards one of two major players, such a system still affords dissenters a political home and a greater voice in the system. It also would seem to allow a third-most popular party to organically slip into the second spot.

        Finally, I know I would be much more enthusiastic about participating in a system where I could cast a vote more closely aligned with my preferences if I knew that vote could at least contribute to the seating of a minority voice in the government (as opposed to disappearing in the noise floor).Report

      • NewDealer in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I think the big reason that Parliamentary governments can have multiple parties is that the executive is not split from the legislative branch. The Prime Minister and Cabinet members maintain their responsibilities as representatives of their districts/ridings/whatever you call it.

        This allows for coalition governments because you can divide the cabinet posts between the parties. So the center-left politician can be the Prime Minister and maybe the farther left politician can be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Or the center-right and farther right politicians, whatever.

        You can’t do this in a Presidential system. What would you do? Have the Speaker be from one party but the whip from another party?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Burt, yes. In parliamentary democracies with proportional representation or single-transferable voting you get multiple parties. Israel is notorial example of this but most parliamentary democracies have many more parties than we do and the range is from far left to far right. Nearly every left-leaning American blog has commentators that want something further to the left than the Democratic Party to vote for.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to LeeEsq says:

        In a certain sense, choices always come down to a binary with branches off of one (well, really both) prongs: either a) that which one calculates will produce as optimal as possible a situation given the givens, and b) everything else. That obviously falsely condenses all non-relatively-optimal possibilities into one undesirable path, which means you’re not taking appropriate measure of certain downside possibilities should you get diverted off your preferred course or miscalculate about it. But ultimately all decisions are about identifying the best course of action and not doing something else. In that sense it’s binary, so perhaps this supports Burt’s point, but I guess I’d differ that it’s a cultural defect. I think this superficial binariness is just inherent in the structure of what deciding is. I’m also not sure it’s what’s behind the lack of viable third parties in the U.S. I think that it’s behind certain features found even in places with multi-party systems, for example. After all, in many places, finally your relatively minor party is either part of the governing coalition (except on some issues), or it’s not. If it is, you’re either helping keep this leading plurality party stay in government, or helping another one get into government, etc. Yes, it’s more complicated than that as well, but those dynamics are very much going on.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I tend to agree with Lee on his first paragraph, although I’m a lot less certain about the second paragraph, but that’s a separate topic.

        To Lee’s first paragraph, I’d just add that another reason is the fact that the Presidency is so powerful, and the focus of the majority of electoral attention, with high natural barriers to third parties (since national elections by their nature require a massive network to be competitive), yet the standards for participation in debates – and to a lesser extent, the standard for matching funds – are set impossibly high, 15% support in five national polls. A third party can’t be seen as nationally credible unless it can put forward a semi-competitive Presidential candidate; it is impossible to put forward a semi-competitive Presidential candidate if the third party candidate can’t participate in the debates, yet you can’t participate in the debates without first being not merely semi-competitive but in fact outright competitive. (Note – Ross Perot’s participation in the debates pre-dated this rule, which was just implemented in 2000).Report

  7. Griff says:

    I’m curious to hear more about the last point in the OP — which topics dropped off your radar once you stopped approaching politics as a team sport?Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Griff says:


      Good question. Ummm…for me a lot of it has to do with domestic policies like health care and whatnot. I know I should care about that stuff but just can’t make myself. It’s probably a symptom of how gross the partisanship is surrounding that issue. On the foreign side I barely paid attention to the Syrua debate.

      For me I think I have gotten more interested in local politics because they dovetail with some of my pet issues regarding localism.Report

  8. morat20 says:

    I’m pretty sure I remember reading several studies and polls back in 2012 that basically said self-labeled independent voters are, by and large, just as rigorously partisan as self-identified Democrats or Republicans.

    They just like thinking of themselves as independent, even as they vote very reliably — year after year — for the same party.

    IIRC, they’re slightly less likely to vote than a self-identified Democrat or Republican.

    It’s part of the myth of the swing voter — there really aren’t a lot of people who wiggle back and forth, but there ARE a lot of people who can be coaxed to the polls or coaxed to stay home, which makes it look like there’s a lot of wiggling.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

      Independent-Lean-Republican are just as Republican as Republicans, and Independent-Lean-Democrats are just as Democratic as Democrats on any given election. And, presumably, a few elections out. In the longer term, though, ten years later they are more likely to have defected to the other party (even though most of them haven’t) than the actual partisans are.

      What you say about independents usually leaning one way or the other is true, but also easily over-stated. There is a reason that Romney won Montana by 15 points while Democrats carried most statewide office, and that reason is actual independents and swing voters.

      A lot of people (and I’m not including Morat20 in this or speaking of him specifically) like to argue the No-Middle-Hypothesis because it provides a great excuse to make every election about rallying up your true believers (in other words, the Tea Party uses it to argue that they should nominate Real Conservatives, and I’ve seen lefties use it to argue it for the nomination of true progressives).

      The thing is, though, even if the NMH were entire accurate, it still wouldn’t necessarily follow that the best thing to do is rally the base. Sometimes it would be, but since it’s “middle voters” (whether of the right or left variety) who often stay home, it can still pay off to reach out to those.Report

      • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        “True Progressives” include Libertarian Liberals. So, yeah, I’m really annoyed at the world for refusing to come up with some damn leftwing terms that make sense.

        I also think that there’s always gonna be a place for “moderates” (which is to say, representative government! Gun control in Montana is a dead issue, and look at coal-heavy WV…).Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Will Truman says:

        I’d issue a slight amendment. Some people argue that running as a True Conservative or True Liberal will actually be a net positive, firing up the base; but it seems a lot more plausible to me that given widespread public ignorance and the relentless “both sides do it”-ism of the media, running as a True Liberal/Conservative won’t alienate voters nearly as much as people say it will. For those who want to move policy sharply in one ideological direction, it means that you can do a lot more than you thought without paying the price in decreased public support. You can move the Overton window and succeed more in the long run than you would if you ran as a moderate routinely.Report

      • Dan, there are times when it does make sense to run the truer-bluer candidate. But I think as a strategy it’s rather limited in application. There are a lot of examples of Republicans nomninating true-blues (or true-reds) on the basis that it’s not nearly the hindrance that the media makes it out to be. And a lot of examples of them losing. You’re going to have a really, really hard time convincing me that the conservatism hasn’t hurt itself by minimizeing the importance of nominee appeal to moderates and non-ideologues.

        The Democratic examples are more limited. My point, FWIW, was not “both sides do it” but rather “I’ve heard people on both sides make the argument.” There is a critical difference: Republicans actually nominate them and Democrats rarely do, if at all.

        There is definitely a time and place to elect true-blues and true-reds. Most specifically, when you have a strong electoral advantage or a constituency has a sympathy towards ideological energy.Ted Cruz, Paul Wellstone, many congressmen. But that has nothing to do with Ted Cruz being being electorally for conservatives and more to do (in a particular line of thinking, anyway) Ted Cruz being better once elected.

        Every now and again you’ll get a Pat Toomey or Marco Rubio where you can slip them in an otherwise purple or mildly hostile state. More common, though, are Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell.

        To put it another way, nominating true-blues and true-reds can advance an ideology, but it can cost you elections which in turn hurts the ideology. The trick is figuring out when to take the risk of the latter. Sometimes it’s worth it. The boosters of doing so rarely, however, make the distinction. They think the same risk worth taking in Texas is worth taking in California, or vice-versa. (Again: Just because I’ve heard the argument on both sides does not mean “both sides do it” in remotely equitable fashion.)Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

        Will raises a good point about ticket-splitting that the WaPo question inherently doesn’t get at for being too specific. If they do it consistently enough, ticket-spliters I think can be said to “be” independents, even though they’ll often exhibit little in the way of third-party or non-party voting. But the question specifically asks about voting for independents or third-party candidates. Interestingly, unless ticket-splitters were likely to consistently gravitate to one political party given an alternative (something I doubt would be the case), it’s not clear that the existence of consistent ticket-splitters augurs very well for the development of third parties. Party development and independent voting/ticket-splitting are two political behaviors that are in pretty significant tension with each other.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Will Truman says:

        Will, to be clear, I certainly wasn’t accusing you of “both sides do it”ism. And I agree that in certain individual cases, the GOP has hurt themselves badly by nominating candidates that were too extreme. But in the long run, I think they’ve moved America to the right. Because the media tends to call things centrist when they’re in between the two parties, running people who are insanely far right tends to legitimate the beliefs of those who are mere far-right, so even GOP losers help the party in the long run. Meanwhile, the Democrats strategy of “hide your ideology at all costs” has won elections, but it’s been grindingly slow or even moving backwards on many of the problems that liberals care about–the tax code is more regressive now than it was in 1999, the sequester is seen as the baseline and there are few prominent voices calling for sharply expanded federal infrastructure spending or increased Social Security, and the distribution of wealth is more skewed than ever.Report

      • @dan-miller I just don’t see candidates running as a “true liberal” or “true conservative”, at least not in any detail. The Republican House has illustrated the problem this past year. IIRC, every Republican member voted for the Ryan budget plan at the gross level. But since then, they have been unable to pass most of the individual appropriations bills because too many Republican members are unwilling to vote for the specific cuts necessary to meet the Ryan plan.

        It’s one thing to say “entitlement reform”. It’s quite another to go out in your district and campaign on the position that Medicare as we know it will go away soon, to be replaced by fixed-size vouchers that can be spent on insurance, and if the voucher isn’t big enough to cover your particular case, well, you should have saved more. The same thing works for a “true liberal”, of course. It’s one thing to be in favor of health insurance for all and simplified public assistance; it’s another to campaign for single-payer and a guaranteed minimum income.Report

  9. Jim Heffman says:

    “Well, if I say I’m a Democrat, they’ll say I’m in favor of welfare mothers and ridiculously strict regulation. And if I say I’m a Republican, they’ll say I’m in favor of white male supremacy. And I’m neither of those things and I don’t feel like wasting time arguing about how I’m not, so I’ll say I’m independent.”Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      See, there’s that either/or thinking again. Everything must be polarized to ridiculous extremes in order to be understood.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Only because the current political market place is dominated by two large players who rig the system to eliminate competition.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Sort of, @philip-h . I think it’s that way not just because the parties rig it to be that way, but because people like it that way. There’s no massive yet unarticulated yearning by the silent majority for a system where nuances of overlapping and multifaceted ideas are vetted and debated by a spectrum of candidates. This isn’t Europe.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Phillip, Ben Nelson and Dennis Kucinich are both Democrats.
        Ted Cruz and Olympia Snowe are both Republicans.

        It’s not that the major parties are somehow rigging the game. It’s that institutionally, there’s very little incentive for any candidate whose positions are mainstream enough to win a race not to put an R or “D beside their names.

        Third Parties aren’t fringe groups with no votes because of systemic bias. They’re fringe groups with no votes because they’re full of fringe candidates who nobody wants to vote for.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

        It’s that institutionally, there’s very little incentive for any candidate whose positions are mainstream enough to win a race not to put an R or “D beside their names.

        The institutional incentives are not all accidental, though. Some of which are organic biproducts of a system designed by people skeptical of factions (and therefore it was unintentional, we can assume), but a lot has changed in the meantime to formalize the two-party system.

        It’s one of the reasons why in the past the Whigs were replaced by the Republicans, but if the Republicans (as they presently exist) fall by the wayside they will likely be replaced by people who call themselves Republicans.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Alan, I disagree. People capable of winning elections stick to R & D designations because most states election laws make it tough for true independents to get on the ballot in the first place, and then they can only go on the general election ballot. Name recognition starts with primary candidates, so if you are an independent, you have to start campaigning months in advance of the general, and with no real goal while the primary sorts itself out. And your examples are flawed – Sen. Cruz will campaign as a Republican because he identifies himself as a Republican; just as the others campaign as those Parties because that’s how they self Identify. Viable Third Parties, or the ability of independent voters to participate in primaries might change that self-identification, which might change the system.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Burt Likko says:

        In California, under the old election scheme, there were typically 1-4 minor party candidates on the ballot for most positions. None of them ever won. It wasn’t the election laws holding them back. It was that they were fringe nuts who the voters didn’t want in office.

        Under the new system, party identification is essentially meaningless–all voters can vote in the primaries, and the highest two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, are the candidates in the general election. It let to plenty of blue vs. blue matchups, and one or two red vs red ones–but no 3rd party or independent candidates.

        I am not denying that there are parts of the election law that create institutional hurdles for third party and independent candidates. But they’re not a serious barrier to those candidates to actually have a chance of winning. Angus King got elected as an independent. Bernie Sanders keeps getting his seat every six years.

        What those barriers are doing is preventing people from being a losing candidate people have heard of. The folks that 90% of the electorate think are ridiculous, but the remaining 10% really love. You can argue that these rules have a negative effect on the state of political discourse–I think it’s rather mixed, personally. But it’s not denying anyone a seat that they have the political appeal to get.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @alan-scott the new California system benefits everyone whose name is Dianne Feinstein. No one else really comes out ahead so far as I can tell.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Since they’re probably all Jewish, that’s a good thing.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @burt-likko , Under the old system, the democratic incumbent senator was guaranteed re-election. Under the new system, the democratic incumbent senator is guaranteed re-election. You can argue that the system is better for Feinstein than it was before, but that’s a distinction without a difference.

        The fact of the matter is that most contests in California were decided not in the general election, but at the primary level. In SF, the democrat always wins. In Redding, the republican does.

        Now, in the general election, we’ve got democrats running against democrats in SF and Republicans running against republicans in Redding. We’ve arrived at a system where the election that matters is also the election where voters actually show up.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @will-truman, the people who wrote the Constitution hated the idea of political parties but set them up anyway because its the most convenient way to organize political, win elections, and form governing coalitions in a democratic system.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      There’s a lot of truth to that, too.Report

  10. Kolohe says:

    “- Is this a long-term trend or a blip on the political history of the United States?”

    It’s a recurring pattern. The most well known example is probably the turn of the 20th century Progressive movement, where a combo of the frontier closing, religious awaking, mass immigration, industrialization externalities, acceding political power for women, and the dawn of mass communication (as well as, of course, the first political generation born completely after the civil war), significantly realigned political coalitions and desires of the so-called base.

    In that milieu were a generation of politicians that, while coming to power through mostly orthodox politically machinery, established themselves as having a sharply independent streak while in power – e.g. LaFollette, T Roosevelt, even Wilson. To be sure, for some, breaking with the party power centers and appealing directly to the muddled middle of the masses worked, for others, not so much.

    There is a parallel realignment today, though with much weaker underlying forces. For instance, the boomer generation is soon to age itself out of the political class, taking most of the Cold War sensibilities with them.

    The strongest force acting today to disrupt the extant political status quo is the dramatic decline in crime rates everywhere, even in the face of continued economic blahs. And people are thus moving back to cities – and the indefinite higher price of oil is part of this dynamic too. All these factors, plus conscious choice on the part of the Republican party in the last 2 prez cycles, has put, (on the national and regional levels) the suburbs political alliance with the cities, when, for most of the post WW2 era, suburbs were in alliance with rural areas *against* the cities.Report

  11. Jesse Ewiak says:

    I’ll bet anybody $25 to their favorite charity that the independent vote in Congressional races doesn’t top 5%, let alone 30%.Report

  12. j r says:

    The presidential system and first-past-the-post elections pretty much make it certain that American politics will always be a two-party system. There are moments when the current arrangement fractures and something else is possible for a brief period, but then all the pieces reconfigure themselves back into the two-party system. I think that we are seeing one of those moments now. The question is whether we are seeing the death of one party or simply a temporary lurch to the extreme.

    For all the talk about how much things are changing, the 2012 presidential elections saw a Republican moderate challenge an established Democrat. If 2016 is Christie vs. Clinton, we’ll see the exact same thing.Report

  13. Jaybird says:

    I hear a number of commercials for the Governor’s race in Virginia while I’m out here. The one that I keep enjoying is for Robert Sarvis. He’s the Libertarian candidate but his ad doesn’t mention that (well, the radio ad, anyway).

    You can listen to it here (the radio ad is pretty identical to the television ad starting around 10 seconds in):

    From what I can tell, it looks like Sarvis is acting like a spoiler.

    And good for him.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

      The math so far is that while Sarvis is taking slightly more from nominal Cooch voters than from McA voters, if he weren’t in the race, McA would still be beating Cooch decisively.

      Sarvis simply doesn’t have enough money to break through saying ‘hey I support your rights to having all the abortions *and* guns you want’

      Conversely, because this has been such an issue-free campaign between McA & Cooch, and because Sarvis is so low profile, Sarvis has been stay above the fray and not been constructively engaged and dissected on education and transportation issues, which are what really vex Virginians.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

        “Open-minded. Open for business.” is pretty damned good copy, if’n you ask me.

        Pity that nobody’s paying attention. Sigh.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        To be fair, that’s is basically Terry McAuliffe’s schtick. As it is Mark Warner’s and Timmy Kaine’s.

        The median Virginia Democrat is rather rightish of the median national Democrat, even as the state trends purple. (and the purpleness is caused by federal government workers – and contractors – in the Defense and Intelligence sectors as much as anything else. Plus, even as population and demand for basic government services has grown, state and city/county workers aren’t unionized)Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:

        This is a good article on why around 70 percent of people who identify as libertarian are male:

        I especially like the Chait quote in the article:

        “In [Ron] Paul’s world, state-enforced discrimination is the only kind of discrimination. A libertarian by definition opposes discrimination because libertarians oppose the state. He cannot imagine social power exerting itself through any other form. … The entire premise rests upon ignoring the social power that dominant social groups are able to wield outside of the channels of the state. Yet in the absence of government protection, white males, acting solely through their exercise of freedom of contract and association, have historically proven quite capable of erecting what any sane observer would recognize as actual impediments to the freedom of minorities and women.”

        This seems to be a constant roundabout that goes over the head of many (but not all) libertarians and often makes those libertarians seem obtuse and dense. The freedom to be free from discrimination > the freedom to discriminate.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:


        I’ve read articles that say he is running as a liberal. Maybe not the extent of De Blasio but as a liberal candidate. Then again anyone would be liberal next to the Cooch and the Lt. Governor choice.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        @newdealer to preface the below I didn’t see most of the debates, and the straight news coverage has been strictly horse race stuff (as per usual).

        I didn’t see much of McAulliffe ‘running as a liberal’. Only that Cuccinelli and the entire Republican slate are too extreme and “looking out for their own agenda” (the exact tagline, if I got it right)

        The issues covered by rom McAulliffe (and his PAC proxies) in the media campaign (direct mail and tv/radio) have been, in order of frequency 1) Cuccinelli wants to take away your right to chose 2) Cuccinelli wants to restrict your access to contraception 3) Cuccinelli once used to the AG’s office to go after a UVA climate change research 4) The republican Virginia Beach mayor, A Hampton Roads businessman, and a retired Republican (female) state delegate endorse McAulliffe on camera 5) Cuccinelli doesn’t want to stop crazy people from getting guns (and in the same ads, wants to stop your right to abortion).

        Only this last one, and it’s a latecomer (and funded by Bloomberg’s gun control PAC) has McAuliffe attaching his name to anything close to what one could call a national liberal policy consensus – i.e. pro-gun control. (and this has been entirely through a PAC, while the first three were both campaign and PAC ads.) (afaict, the endorsements were strictly campaign)

        The Democratic Party activists that I know (as in, I went to high school with one of them) are all certifying McAuliffe’s bonafides, but the main story line is that Cuccinelli is extreme and that McAuliffe is a candidate for all Virginians. (and McAuliffe just today came out and said he’d appoint Republicans to the cabinet).

        It’s worth noting that there was no Dem primary for the governor’s race, they nominated McAulliffe in a convention just like the GOP did with their entire slate. So there was no real intraparty debate this cycle to establish “where the Democrats want to take Virginia” as the phrasing usually goes.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:


        The tactics here are Democratic and liberal from my point of view. He is not shying away from talking about environmentalism or contraception. Traditionally, these were issues that Democratic politicians in red/purple states were supposed to soft-peddle.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        @newdealer from the Chait article

        It’s to women’s credit that most of them are not in favor of throwing it away.

        Really? This is gender essentialism at its worse. And what does Chait think of those (slightly over) 3 out 10 women that are libertarians?

        And as he says, self identified libertarians are, at most, 22% of the population. A large supermajority of persons – man, woman, and otherwise – are already on team ‘social contract’ anyway.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        @newdealer I think the softpedling of abortion depends on which side of the street your working. Chris Christie I believe is nominally pro-life but I don’t think that’s an issue this cycle in New Jersey, exactly because he’s soft peddling that stance. (and I I think his opponent is trying to make it one, but not getting any traction).

        The Connie Morella Republican is an endangered species on both sides of the Potomac river, so the moderate suburban vote – and esp the moderate suburban woman vote – was up for grabs and, now, has been completely dominated by McAuliffe. Primarily (and near exclusively) due to McAuliffe’s ability to point to Cucinelli’s record on stuff like the fetal personhood push. (in other words, McAuliffe could operate with impunity in that DMZ because Cucinelli had already seemingly crossed it)

        The climate change thing is almost entirely PAC based, not campaign based. And solely focused on a questionable – but not entirely unfounded – decision by the AG’s office to investigate allegations of falsified research at UVA.

        As far as concrete policies on climate change – e.g. whether or not to allow Chesapeake Bay and offshore oil and gas exploration, what do to about the western Virginia coalfieds, whether or not to further incentivize non-coal electricity production for NoVa and Hampton Roads with a resulting rise in retail prices, whether or not to keep McDonnell’s plan to widen US 460 to provide an alternative to I-64, and most of all, whether or not to raise the recently reduced gas tax – all these McAulliffe may have an opinion on, but heck if I know what they are from his ads and mailers.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kolohe says:

        McAuliffe’s running liberal on social issues and standard issue neoliberal on economic issues (aside from the shutdown, for obvious local reasons).Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:


        I think it is more than abortion that allows an all out attack on Cucinelli. It was also his rather odd but adamant campaign to try and bring back sodomy laws despite (or because of) Lawrence v. Texas and his rather odd justifications. It is his stance on contraception as well.*

        *The battle against contraception is one of the oddest aspects of social conservatism because it seems to rail against the very existence of contraceptives.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        It was not really an ‘adamant campaign to bring back sodomy laws’. As AG, Cuccinelli defended the state’s case on an appeal that rested on throwing out a sodomy conviction of a 47 year old male in a relationship with a 17 year old female. I would say both that the situation was extremely icky and not a crime, and that Lawrence v Texas means that the conviction should be thrown out, but it was not per se a crusade against homosexuality.

        Cuccinelli has the bog-standard Republican position against gay marriage, and McAuliffe appears to now be for it (late to the game and not necessarily a priority) – a position that appears to be now the bog-standard Democratic one.

        “the battle against contraception” is also a slight misreading of Cuccinelli’s (and the VA GOP AG candidate’s) stated positions – though it doesn’t excuse them. They are both for the ‘personhood’ movement – which would likely have the practical effect of greatly restricting contraception, and people need to be held accountable for 2nd order, easily foreseen affects – but it’s inaccurate to say they’re battling against contraception.

        In any case, my point is largely the same as Jesse Ewiak’s who stated it much more (much more) succinctly. McAulliffe is only ‘running as a liberal’ insomuch that he’s running in the Democratic mainstream on social issues (which are closer to the national mainstream in both Virginia and nationally), but on much of the rest, he’d be barely distinguishable from the current VA delegation to the US Senate – or the current (GOP) governor.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Kolohe says:

        The battle against contraception is one of the oddest aspects of social conservatism because it seems to rail against the very existence of contraceptives.
        The most vehement foot soldiers in that particular fight are not freedom from coercion loving libertarians, but evangelicals — many of whom believe the Pill is an abortificant.

        Which means the loudest voices, the ones who really have a dog in that fight (rather than a checkbox to mark off for ideological credit) do tend to be against the very against of contraceptives. They just realize it’s really unpopular to say so.

        Which leads to weird things like Rush Limbaugh displaying the fact that he has no idea how oral contraceptives work. (As I recall his comments, I believe he thought they were like condoms — you took one every time. I’m still flabbergasted on that).Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

        He practices a much more reliable method of contraception — acting like Rush Limbaugh.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        Nah, Cooch has more kids than wives.Report