Posted by Samantha Serrano on June 24, 2015 at 12:14 PM
Learn with the Intern: The History of the Independent Movement
Unlike many other countries, in the United States, there are only two consistently competitive political parties that are noticed during elections—the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The American system is commonly called a "two-party system" because there have historically been only two major political parties with candidates competing for offices. This system can be traced back to the first two emerging “parties” that disagreed over specific details contained within the Constitution; the Federalists and Anti-federalists.
However, after reading about the Independent Movement through political activist Jacqueline Salit’s book, Independents Rising, one can see that outsider movements, third parties, and the battle for a post-partisan country have been under way for years, trying to prove to Americans that they do not need to label themselves in one political party to see positive change occur.
It is common to think that people who identify as Independent are centrists who lean in the middle of Democratic and Republican ideologies, but Salit makes the point that this is not the case. She clearly says that they are Americans who do not want to align themselves with any political party.
With forty percent of American citizens today identifying as independents, this is the highest proportion seen in this country in seventy years. For over two decades, the independent realignment has been attempting to take the nation by storm. At first it was largely viewed as a third-party movement. Then after 2000, it moved in a more anti-party direction until finally it became a fusion movement trying to bring multiple third party groups together to endorse and elect nonpartisan leaders that were already a part of one of the two major parties.
The Movement’s prehistory can be traced back to the John Anderson campaign of 1980 as he broke from his Republican party to run for president as an independent, garnering 7% of the vote. Shortly after, in 1988 Lenora Fulani, a developmental psychologist, ran for president as the candidate of the New Alliance Party and broke through what Salit called a glass ceiling when she accessed the ballot in all 50 states, becoming the first ever woman and first African American to do so.
Also at the time, a not well-known Ron Paul polled half a million votes in his independent presidential bid. Of course, then when Ross Perot came into the picture polling at 42%, Americans seemed set on sending an independent to the White House. In the 1992 election, he received 18.9% of the popular vote, approximately 19,741,065 votes (but no electoral college votes), making him the most successful third-party presidential candidate in terms of the popular vote since Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election. Finally, the impact of the independent movement was seen in Michael Bloomberg and his successful run for mayor three times with the help of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party and the Independence Party of New York.
The independent vote is crucial in American politics. Their vote may swing an election by just enough percentage points to decide an election. In 2008, independents helped vote Barack Obama into office, and on the flip side also helped elect Republican congressional candidates in 2010. With the 2016 election coming up, it is necessary for the candidates to pay attention to the independent vote if they want to run a successful campaign.
With such an impact on the politics of the country, it seems as though closed primaries disenfranchise independent voters by not allowing their voices to be heard in the primary. As an advocate for Open Primaries, I believe that now is the time for this country to begin making the change to allow more independent voter’s opinions to be heard, and to continue extending the history of the independent impact.
Originally from New Jersey, Samantha Serrano is currently a rising sophomore at The George Washington University located in Washington, DC. Samantha has had a passion for government and politics throughout her educational journey, which sparked her interest to intern at Open Primaries Inc. in Manhattan. In high school, Samantha was very actively involved in extracurricular activities as the Student Government President, Class Council Secretary, and Treasurer of the New Jersey Assoc. of Student Councils while maintaining her GPA to graduate in the top 2% of her class. Now attending one of the most politically active schools in the country, Samantha plans to take the experience she gains from interning at Open Primaries Inc. and apply it to her future endeavors at school as well as her future career.