It is once again an election year, and the biggest question surrounding the 2012 vote is “Who should I vote for in November?” Political party lines are so strictly drawn however, that in the past, if you identified as a Democrat or Republican, there was no need to choose. As educated citizens, it is our responsibility to question the candidates before electing them, and not blindly vote for whomever our political party says we should. Registering as an Independent gives the voter the power, and makes the candidates work to earn our vote, instead of expecting it because of their political affiliation.
Even before we step into our first voting booth at 18, we typically know which political party we belong to; after all, most of our family and friends are the same, and as we all knew, “the other party is bad.” But what happens when we realize that the rigid political parties and their specific priorities, don’t always address the issues most important to us? Over the years, polarization within the parties — and voters tired of the same rehearsed speeches — has forced people to look for a political identity outside of just Democrat or Republican.
By the end of 2011, 40% of Americans identified as Independent voters, up 2% from 2010, and 5% in 2008. And rightly so. The president should be elected based on merit, not simply because he is a member of the most popular political party, or because his opponent was not. The increase in Independent voters demonstrates that a polarized two-party system no longer represents the majority of Americans, who are demanding an alternative to a system with such extreme divisions.
According to the most recent political poll from Gallup, frustration with the severe partisan nature of politics, and identification as an Independent, has reached a 60-year high. Support for the Democratic and Republican Party however, is at a 22-year low, with Democrats at 31%, and Republicans with only 27%. The same Gallup poll showed that by September 2011, 81% of Americans were unhappy with the way the country was being run, and “record levels of distrust in government and unfavorable views of both parties helped to create an environment that fostered political independence.”
Linda Killian of Politics Daily writes, “Many [independent voters] say they have been driven from the Republican and Democratic parties by…extremism and a failure to focus on the issues they consider most important… and are tired of partisan wrangling, which all too often results in either gridlock and a lack of action on the most important issues the nation faces.” The many shameless disagreements within the government this past year, are perfect examples of how representatives have become more interested in defeating each other, rather than working together for the good of the American people.
In the same interview with Linda Killian, one Independent voter said, "I'm just so turned off by everyone hurling insults at each other… instead of telling me what their position is ... all they want to do is tell me what their opponent is going to do wrong. I'm getting so sick of it." This sentiment is felt many who identify as Independent, and is a key motivation to remaining non-partisan when choosing the right candidate.
While an Independent voter may still have to choose between a Democrat and Republican in the end, the rise in independent voters signals a much-needed change in our traditional two-party system. Future candidates will need to expand their political views, and drop the exhausted party line, if they want to attract the support of the Independent voter.
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