With Jacqueline Salit,
President, IndependentVoting.org, and
author of Independents Rising
Q: Where are independent voters going to go in November? Who will they vote for?
A: Before we talk about the choice that voters will make in the Presidential election in November, we need to talk about how much independent voters have shaped the election so far. Their impact has been huge in three ways.
First, in the states which permitted independent voters to vote in the primaries, those independents have lifted up Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the anti-establishment, anti-status quo candidates. They gave Trump his edge over the other Republicans and they turned Sanders from a fringe challenger to a fierce competitor that Secretary Clinton has not been able to close down.
Second, independent voters, by virtue of putting this kind of pressure on the system, have shined a very bright light on the undemocratic defects of that system, most notably the closed primary system that can deny independents the right to vote.
Third, these voters have brought a brand new issue into the national conversation. It's the wall. But it's not the wall between the US and Mexico, it's the wall between the parties and the people. To paraphrase a former President, independents want to tear down that wall. They want changes to the election system itself.
Q: By changes in the system, you mean what?
A: Changes that give the voters, not the parties, the greatest influence. Open primaries are central to this shift, meaning having a public primary system where every voter can vote, rather than a system where the parties get to set the rules of who gets to vote. Right now, both the DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the RNC Chair Reince Priebus have stated unequivocally they want to exclude independents from voting in party primaries. Thousands of people have already signed petitions calling on the parties to change their rules to allow independents to vote. You can sign here. But the bottom line here is that there is a conflict that has risen up in this campaign. Each party needs independents to win in November, but neither wants to give independents the respect, recognition and inclusion we are demanding.
Q: Who will independents support in November?
That depends a great deal on what the candidates do between now and November. Bernie Sanders is popular with indies, he has drawn 65 to 75% of the independent voters who chose DP ballots, and it's been his edge in many states over Mrs. Clinton. In the beginning, Sanders was silent on the open primary question, but he was forced to speak out about it as the lockout in states like Arizona, New York and Pennsylvania became front page news. The lockout was so acute, even the media was forced to cover it!
Now Bernie says he is demanding a rules change from his party to require open presidential primaries in the future and he says he's going to bring this to the convention. Clinton will resist this, but if that rules change were to be adopted, it would send a strong message to independent voters that the Democrats are embracing our movement for political independents while not demanding that we become Democrats. That’s key! The Democrats would help themselves enormously with independent voters if they took that position.
Q: And what about Trump? What does he need to do to win over independents?
A: Trump has had big appeal for independents, and a big reason is that he has been a wrecking ball to his own party. Independents don't like parties, and Trump apparently doesn't either. Surely, the party elites don't like him, and that's a big selling point. He's used that effectively. Plus, Trump has exploded the myth that independents are social conservatives. For the most part, they're not, and they voted for Trump and against Cruz and Rubio when it counted. In spite of the hype from the liberals, many recognize that Trump is not an ideologue. But, the fundamental dynamic is this. The more the Democratic Party promotes it's brand of partisan isolationism—meaning, we can win this by mobilizing the traditional Democratic Party interest groups—the more independents will be drawn elsewhere, including to Trump. I think this is why Trump decided not to debate Bernie. He wants the face of the Democratic Party to be Hillary, not Bernie, because it increases his chances of getting independent voters if she's the standard bearer.
Q: The Libertarian Party just nominated former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld as their national ticket. They will be on the ballot in all 50 states. What’s the impact of this campaign going to be?
A: The Johnson/Weld ticket is going to get some votes this year, Johnson is showing at 10% in some polls, and given the volatility of this election, it could go higher, maybe even to 15%, which could qualify him for the presidential debates in the fall. After all, with Trump and Clinton both showing very high negatives, there are many voters who would consider another choice.
But here's the challenge that this campaign faces. Does the Libertarian Party sell itself as an alternative party, or as an alternative TO parties, an alternate to partisanship and to a closed party-controlled system? I think we're seeing a broad outcry this year for changing the party system, again with the demand for open primaries, for changes in party rules, for a system that abolishes all forms of voter suppression. Choosing Johnson and Weld, both recent Republicans who are not party ideologues, suggests that the Libertarians could tap into the anger at the party paradigm, rather than simply offer another party.
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