If you want to get elected to office and accomplish anything in politics these days, you had better convince independent voters of the validity of your ideas. For all the endless discussion of how Republicans and Democrats are going to cast their ballots and how every voter has his or her own ideological beliefs that lean left or right, both parties have become essentially minority factions in a country now dominated by voters self-identifying as independent and unaffiliated.
In the present disturbingly tribal political climate, both sides, regardless of candidate quality or even fundamental issues, will predictably retreat to their respective corners. That is why, because of their growing numbers and contrarian tendencies, independent voters have become more pivotal than ever. Donald Trump found that out the hard way. After narrowly winning a majority of the independent vote in 2016, he suffered a 13% deficit to Joe Biden among that same group in 2020, a major factor in the final result. And all signs point to these independents employing their power and distance from the political establishment to punish progressives in midterm elections now just two weeks away.
The numbers don’t lie. Republicans enjoyed a dramatic shift in their direction in party affiliation in 2021 — from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter, according to Gallup, pulling the GOP even with Democrats at 28% of the electorate. But at least 40% of respondents identify as independent in this and most every other survey. Gallup, for one, breaks those voters into three categories: Republican-leaning (19%), Democrat-leaning (14%), and non-leaning (9%).
That said, the most shocking indicator of the rapidly changing face of unaffiliated voters comes from the most recent poll by The New York Times/Siena College, finding those famously fickle independent women who favored Democrats by 14 points as recently as September now prefer Republicans by 18 points. You don’t need to be a mathematician to understand how massive a shift that is — especially given how we were told by the left and its friends in elite pro-choice media that women would flood the polls and save the Democrats because they are more worried about being stripped of a constitutional right to abortion than they are about the economy, inflation, and crime.
In addition, a recent survey of hot-button cultural issues by the highly respected Trafalgar Group revealed an enormous schism between independent voters and the current Democratic Party. For example, on the issue of sex changes for minors, 47% of Democrats approve, compared to 15% among independents. When asked about which issue upsets them the most among (1) socialist ideas in education, (2) rising illegal immigration, (3) rising inflation, (4) COVID mandates, and (5) federal deficit spending, a full 33% of Democrats chose “none of these upset me” compared to 15% of independents and 6% of Republicans.
Independent Voters Swing the Pendulum
Our political system is increasingly dominated by voters who claim to have detached themselves from party politics, open to whatever serves their self-interest in a given year — like the economy and cost of living in particular this midterm season. Otherwise, we would not have witnessed the political pendulum swinging so dramatically back and forth in recent years. How else to explain the people electing Barack Obama twice, then anointing the polar opposite, Trump, then reversing course once again four years after that with Biden, and now getting ready to swing back to the right two years later? The dangers of an electorate motivated strictly by self-interest apart from ideological moorings are real, especially at a time when the Republic is under fire from progressives and other enemies of constitutional democracy. But the flip side of the coin is that the transactional, results-oriented focus of independents also serves as a check on either party becoming overly extreme or incompetent. In fact, that is the precise role they are playing in this election cycle.
This impending rout of progressives comes so soon after a time of such promise for their movement. Desperate for an event to crystallize their vision of a fundamentally transformed America, the moment had finally arrived in 2020 with the killing of George Floyd and the shared outrage it engendered among Americans of all stripes. Finally, after many years of talk about race and so-called social justice, most everyone was ready to listen to constructive debate about police reform and even about racial equality on a grand scale. Instead, progressives unleashed violent upheaval upon the land that has continued unabated since their 2020 summer of shame, seeking to impose a near-totalitarian cancel culture on unwitting citizens while debasing such respected institutions as the Senate and Supreme Court with their twisted fantasies of a socialist America.
But now these progressives, and the party enabling them, are about to experience a comeuppance of significant magnitude. Far-left candidates failed in the great bulk of their primary campaigns. And now the progressives that survived are facing general election voters along with more normal Democrats and are about to forfeit their hold not just on the power tenuously granted them by the voters in 2020, but perhaps even on the Democratic Party, which has allowed itself to be held hostage by the most extreme impulses of its far-left base.
There is even a tendency to believe progressives will be effectively expelled forever from legitimate political discourse, given the transparent lunacy of ideas like defunding the police, turning territories into states, and expanding the Supreme Court to assure a progressive majority, on top of their disastrous COVID lockdowns that sent the economy spiraling down and, we now know, retarded the educational progress of children. But forever is an awfully long time — and toxic ideas have a way of springing back to life in a nation where memories can be short and dominant media serve as partisans down with the cause of progressivism instead of as journalists. Nevertheless, after what they have put this country through since the Floyd affair, progressives will finally experience their day of reckoning from the American people on Nov. 8. It won’t be pretty.
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