Counting the Independents

Each election various pundits and politicians seem to be surprised at the way independent voters swing. I think they have a bit of a problem comprehending the word “independent.” I am a bit wary of using “we” when discussing independents, but as an independent voter myself I am generally not that shocked by the swings.

Following last year’s election I wrote:

I’ve voted Republican before. I voted Democratic this time, for the most part. I could easily be persuaded to vote Republican again–or for a third party if sufficiently provoked.

The problem, I think is that politicians and the vast majority of the media think in terms of the two major parties. One either supports the Republican agenda in general, or the Democratic agenda. Thus it is often difficult for them to understand how so many people switch allegiances. Now there are a certain number of folks who are voting on appearance or personality, or perhaps because someone they know votes in a particular way.

For me, it is almost always a case of holding my nose and voting. It is very rare that there is a politician who really sounds good to me and also has some realistic chance of being elected. So each candidate race is a separate decision. Who do I agree with the most and also on the most critical issues? Is that person a person of integrity so that I can count on them to be who they say they are?

For whom can one vote if one generally opposes war and also opposes abortion? What does one do if one believes we have a duty, as a society, to aid those less fortunate, but at the same time supports civil liberties and generally light handed regulation? All of these things become individual factors.

I find that the Democrats are frighteningly trusting of government solutions when it comes to social issues, and frighteningly unconcerned with the track record of existing programs, just as long as those programs seem to support their goals. I find Republicans frighteningly trusting of government in the law enforcement, defense, and intelligence fields, and oblivious to the horrible track record of our agencies in those areas.

Both parties are very good at spotting the failures of the other, but much less so at looking carefully at themselves. So independents tend to swing back and forth a bit, just trying to find someone, anyone better.

Now we have this election today in Massachusetts. (Note that I’m in Florida and don’t have a vote today.) There is great shock that the Republican may win. With possible errors in polls, I wouldn’t make that a prediction, but it looks pretty likely to me. In many ways this is because the Democratic candidate is not that good. Even if I agreed with her in general, I would have serious doubts about voting for her due to some of her actions as a prosecutor. (I doubt my misgivings are a driving force in the election, however.)

The question is just what question Republicans are going to take from this. I know they will crow at such a victory. But whether they get long term benefit from it or not will depend on whether they are listening or not. Many of us out here are quite clear on the message not to trust government too much, but in general, we don’t trust government with any of the power, and we want every aspect of government, including law enforcement and defense, to be accountable. We want all our politicians, not just the ones out of power to be ethical, and we expect the ethical standards to be enforced.

I have not been very surprised by President Obama. I expected that the idealism would largely die when he got to Washington, DC, and it has. He has been more moderate than his platform, but again I expected that. But being pragmatic, and letting the issues you said were important during the campaign die, are two different things. Many of those who voted for candidate Obama hoped that President Obama’s stance against such things as torture would stand. But now in many cases the Obama White House is defending positions staked out by the Bush administration.

Some Republicans are claiming this is because Bush was right after all. I disagree. I think it is because of the corrupting power of power. The current administration doesn’t want to investigate torture because it might appear partisan. But let me ask what it looks like when you don’t investigate it?

I expect to disagree with much of what goes on in the halls of government. I pick and choose my issues when I vote for candidates. What I expect, however, is that a politician will stand up for what he believes. If I voted for him, and I knew I disagreed with some position, I do not give him credit for failing to live up with that position even if he changes it to one closer to my own.

So my message to Republicans is much what it was to Democrats after 2008–Don’t count on me. You’ve got to earn my next vote.

I suspect many independents are thinking something very similar.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *