Exploring New Frontiers of America’s Changing Electorate

MARCH 1, 2017

Exploring New Frontiers of America’s Changing Electorate

State of Our State Conference 2016, Morrison Institute for Public Policy

Independent Voting is forging partnerships with major universities and policy institutes at the forefront of engaging independent voters and understanding their role in America’s changing electorate.

Traditionally approached from an ideological perspective, independents (now 44% of the electorate) have so altered the political landscape through their presence and activity, that new methods of inquiry are required to understand their impact.

The University of North Carolina Greensboro, Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy and The Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, part of the University Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy, have each undertaken the task of exploring and developing those methods.

College Independent Poll

The College Independent poll was the first university sponsored poll in the nation focusing on independents. It examined political tendencies among college students and was released by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in August of 2013.  The team conducted face-to-face polling of 1,246 students at 16 university campuses across North Carolina.  A total of 21 questions were asked including why students identified as independents, what they thought of the Republican and Democratic parties, and their knowledge of the electoral process. It was the first university-sponsored survey to specifically examine independent voters in North Carolina and was coordinated by Omar H. Ali, Ph.D., Professor of History and Dean of Lloyd International Honors College at The University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

The poll revealed several key findings,” said Ali. “First, a plurality of college students self-identify as independent regardless of how they are registered to vote. Second, nearly two-thirds expressed being anti-party, with an overwhelming number saying that they do not want to be politically labeled as partisan. Finally, college independents say they strongly favor structural political reforms that would reduce partisanship in the political process. The overall results suggest the emergence of a non-partisan politics among younger voters.”

Click here to see the poll

Media coverage of The College Independent poll included NPR in NC and local papers. (WUNC 91.5 FM, Raleigh News & Observer – reposted on FreeTheVote.org)

Morrison Institute for Public Policy

In November of 2015, Morrison unveiled the results of a groundbreaking study entitled “Who is the Arizona Independent Voter?”  The study began with the observation that:

“Independents are the No. 1 party in Arizona, although they are not really a party. On official voter rolls of the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, independents are identified as ‘other,’ tossed in a catch-all drawer to be categorized alongside the two major parties – Republican and Democratic – and the third parties (Libertarian, Green and Americans Elect). On the ballot, they’re listed as IND but there is no official Independent Party in Arizona. They’re simply independents, an unlikely group of like-minded and unlike-minded individuals who seem to take pride in their independence from organized and recognized political parties.”

It went on to say:

“With no real shape other than growing percentages that cannot be ignored…independent voters represent a potential changing wind across Arizona’s political landscape. But that formidable force has yet to materialize with any measurable or sustained impact, with independent voters remaining as unharnessed as they are unpredictable in terms of actual votes. Are independent voters truly an untapped resource that could determine elections, aiding in the transformation of Arizona from a conservative “red state” into a “purple” moderate state or even more progressive “blue state”? Or, with no organization and a track record of poor turnout in both primary and general elections, are independents a much-ado-about-nothing “party” of non-participants?”

At Morrison’s invitation, Independent Voting’s Vice President of National Development Cathy Stewart offered a report from the field at the unveiling of the study’s results, remarking:  

In our experience organizing independents from Maine to Alabama; from New York to North Carolina, from Florida to Utah—independents cannot be adequately understood by applying the dominant paradigm of partisan politics. After all, they are making a determined move away from that very paradigm.  A move away from the political parties and a move away from the traditional pillars—partisanship and ideology.  Independents are looking for new ways to get out of the partisan stalemates and to create new coalitions and new ways to come together to deal with our most pressing issues.

Click here to see full results of Who is Arizona’s Independent Voter?

Click here to see Cathy Stewart’s full remarks.

Following up on their ground breaking study of Arizona independents, the ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy dedicated its 2016 State of our State conference to a focus on the changing electorate, including the impact of independent voters.

Morrison used the occasion to unveil findings of a new study entitled “Voter Social Networks and New Sources: Silos and Bridges,” a survey on social media use, which tracked how information is gathered by voters and how it differs among Republicans, Democrats and independents.  The study also explored voters’ interactions within their social networks, and the impact of independents in those social networks.

In the run up to the State of our State, Jackie Salit – who keynoted at the ASU event – appeared with Thom Reilly, Director of Morrison, on KJZZ radio and PBS TV in Phoenix to discuss the study.  “Give me a headline on this report. What do we take from this?” asked Arizona Horizon host Ted Simons. “Independents are going to lead us to a new American political culture,” said Salit.

Click here to see Thom Reilly and Jackie Salit on the PBS show Arizona Horizon.

Independent Voting co-sponsored Morrison’s State of our State. President Jackie Salit also appeared on a conference panel that addressed the question “How Are Independents and Others Driving Political Change?”

Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy

The Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at the University of Southern California is part of the prestigious Price School of Public Policy.  It was founded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of his second term as Governor of California and is led by one of his top advisors, Bonnie Reiss who serves as Global Director. The Institute is “committed to advancing post-partisanship, where leaders put people over political parties and work together to find the best ideas and solutions to benefit the people they serve.”

Independent Voting’s connection to the Governor and his political reform agenda began in 2010 and centered on support for his effort to bring nonpartisan, top two elections to the state. That effort, along with redistricting reform which took the power of drawing district lines away from the state legislature, passed in 2010 and quickly began to transform the moribund California legislature back into a functioning body.

Jackie Salit has appeared at several of the Institute’s public forums and spoke recently at an event entitled “The Politics of the Top Two Primary: The California Senate Race 2016” sponsored by Institute.

“Independent voters are moving around the political spectrum looking for platforms to give expression to a new kind of politic and a new kind of political paradigm,” said Salit. “I happen to believe we’re in a transition right now from a horizontal, ideological driven paradigm, to something else.”

Salit pointed out that in the Senate race, over three million Californians who voted for Donald Trump then continued down ballot and voted for one of the two politically progressive women of color – both Democrats – running for U.S. Senate.  This, she said, demonstrates how, as a practical matter, independent voting is not just something unaffiliated voters do, it’s something all Americans would be able to do in a top two, nonpartisan election system.

See the video here.