Friday, May 1, 2015

233. Mythical Independents aren't really the 40 percent

The political argument is often stated as the fight for the middle, those often regarded as Independents.  

Last year, John Kasich defeated Ed FitzGerald by a 63 to 33 margin. In a disastrous run by FitzGerald, it is amazing that he even received 33 percent of the vote. Did one in three voters really feel comfortable with him governing the state?

However, such lopsided defeats are rare in diverse areas. To win a race 55 to 45 is to win pretty comfortably. In most instances, each candidate starts with 40 percent of the vote—those who will for him or her based on political party alone (though gerrymandering is creating larger margins, lowering that total to maybe 35 percent). Either way, the battle, or where all the money is being spent, is usually on the 20 percent who could vote either way.

A recent poll indicated that the number of Independents is at a record level, 43 percent.  I think much of this is baloney, as many like to identify themselves as Independents because it allows them to portray themselves as fair, just and non-partisan. They see themselves as balanced and objective. Instead, I think in many cases, it’s a lack of self-awareness, politically unprincipled or being uneducated on the issues.

I once had a discussion with a newspaper editor who claimed to be Independent. He explained, as many often do, that he had people on both the right and left upset with him. That is probably true, for example many on the left are upset with President Obama from time to time, but it does not automatically make them an Independent. In fact, more delusional than Independent, the editor believed it to be true simply because he said so.

If one is particularly principled, it’s difficult to understand how he or she might absently float in the middle. The parties are further apart than ever. While certainly there are some overlapping issues, one with a defined beliefs and values will likely tune in to one party over the other.  Weak values make for wavering support.

And if Independents were truly so, it’s likely that we wouldn’t see the disturbingly low turnover among incumbents—especially at a time when so many are unhappy with our government. It’s somewhat obvious that many Independents vote simply on name recognition or political climate (as they did in 2014).

Finally, political campaigns are spending more money than ever. This money is noticeably spent on the middle—as it is perceived as a waste of money to spend it on the base. They spend this money because they are counting on a middle that doesn’t do their homework. Those who can be influenced by often misleading commercials and literature are probably not spending their time digging into the candidates or the issues. They can be won over by a gimmick or a negative campaign assertion.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some true Independents—and I respect them. They are those who are educated on the issues, particularly economic issues, and do consider the competing arguments. They are, however, nowhere—anywhere— near 40 percent of the electorate. 

In my case, I consider myself liberal first and a Democrat second. More importantly, I have my personal values and beliefs on how government should operate. There is nothing magical about being a Democrat, it just happens that their values align with mine more than Republicans. Just as I don’t think Republicans go far enough on many issues, there are times when I think Democrats go too far. Unfortunately, Republicans have this dual attraction of fiscal and social conservatism, neither of which I share a favorable opinion. But, there is an obligation, as in the case with Ed Fitzgerald, to make the best choice—regardless political affiliation. For me, integrity is perhaps most defining.

I would love to see more voters in the middle, truly in the middle. I would also like to see more choice—that is, additional political parties so that candidates would cover a spectrum of values and political ideology and not operate in silos, obsessed with fooling the so-called Independents.  

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