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Choosing Sides: The Decline of Independents

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With the 2006 elections being cited as most expensive in U.S. history, filled with some of the nastiest campaign ads ever, one might expect to find increased disgust among the electorate for the two major parties responsible for these campaigns, especially by those who only weakly identify themselves with the Democratic and Republican Parties.

However, instead of abandoning these political parties and self-identifying in greater numbers as independents, the public seems to be sticking with the donkeys and the elephants. In fact, a study of partisanship trends across the Upper Midwest over the past year and a half finds the number of people identifying themselves as independents to be falling drastically.

Smart Politics examined the Party ID data in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin from SurveyUSA polling in May 2005 and September 2006 and found the percentage of independents in all four Upper Midwestern states had dropped.

In Iowa, 38 percent identified themselves as independents in May 2005, falling to just 26 percent in September 2006. In South Dakota the drop was even greater: 29 percent to 16 percent. Wisconsin also saw a double-digit drop: from 35 percent to 25 percent. In Minnesota, the drop was four points: 32 percent to 28 percent.

In Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota the Democrats seemed to be the beneficiary of this change—with Democratic Party ID increases of seven, four, and two points respectively. In South Dakota, there was a seven-point uptick in those identifying themselves as republicans.

It seems even if the public is disgusted by the harsh political tone of the day, they are not throwing up their hands: they are choosing sides. In light of this apparent the increase in Party ID with the two major parties, Smart Politics suspects turnout in the 2006 mid-terms will be much higher than normal.

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1 Comment


  • I think part of the reason for the drop in independents is that the races seem so close, you don't want to "waste" your vote on a 3rd party candidate.

    I for one would like to vote for Peter Hutchinson for MN Gov and Bruce Kennedy for Sec. of State. However, I think it's even more important that T-Paw and Kiffmeyer not be re-elected. If I could be assured that Hatch and Ritchie don't need my votes, I would vote for the Independent candidates.

    It's a conundrum for independent candidates throughout and is probably why 3rd parties don't last long in American politics. It is also the main reason I will be voting for IRV in Minneapolis.

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