In 2006 independents chose Democratic House candidates over Republicans, 57 to 39 percent. But in 2008, Democrats won independent voters by only eight points and lost them by 19 points in 2010. With that kind of track record, it is impossible to say that independent voters are reliably partisan.
2. Independent voters are less engaged.
In hundreds of interviews with independent voters, I found that they tend to be well informed and care about the political process — even though the two parties have done their best to alienate them through attacks, gridlock and dysfunction. About two-thirds of them say they are independent because “both parties care more about special interests than about average Americans,” according to a Pew survey.
Independent turnout is typically lower than it is among partisan voters. But in more than half of the country, independents are not permitted to vote in primaries, so they have no say in the candidates selected in the general election. It’s no surprise, then, that they are usually less satisfied with their candidate choices than partisan voters are.
Independents are more turned off than partisan voters by negative campaign ads and are more likely to say they want more substantive discussions from the candidates and the media. Independents take voting seriously but are less moved by partisan appeals. They care more about the deficit than Democratic voters do, more about the environment than Republicans do, and less about social issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion, than do voters from either party.
3. Independent voters want a third party.
I found no unanimity: Some of them think we do need a third- or multi-party system and consistently vote for outsider and third-party candidates, while others accept that this is a two-party nation.
The most successful third-party presidential candidacy in the past 100 years was when Teddy Roosevelt ran for a third term as a candidate with the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and won 27 percent of the vote. Roosevelt came in second to Woodrow Wilson and carried half a dozen states, including California, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Ross Perot, running as a Reform Party candidate in 1992, won 19 percent of the vote.
The third-party organization Americans Elect gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in more than half the states, but did not attract a candidate who could generate much interest and officially suspended its effort Thursday. Many independent voters think it is more realistic to push for open primaries, and campaign finance and congressional redistricting reform that would open up the process to all voters and candidates, than it would be to try to create a competitive third party.