Independent voters, like the two of us, played a powerful role in the New Hampshire primary, driving support for Nikki Haley and Dean Phillips. Neither won. But both overperformed and showed the challenges both Trump and Biden will face this November if they are indeed the Democratic and Republican nominees.
Could 2024–finally–be the year in which independent voters get some respect? Or will they continue to suffer the same fate as Rodney Dangerfield in a political culture driven by partisan actors with unlimited budgets and powerful algorithms?
The coverage of the 2024 race should focus on independents, and there are signs that may happen. Because we will be the difference-makers. Just a few thousand of us in one or two swing states could be what tips this historic election. That’s exactly what happened in the midterms, where independent voters broke with historical precedent and favored the President’s party. They broke for candidates like Senators John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Raphael Warnock in Georgia and Mark Kelly in Arizona. That doesn’t mean that independents are now solidly in the Democratic Party camp, however. Far from it. They also broke for Republican Senator Brian Kemp in Georgia and Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida.
But many pundits have not caught up. They continue to relate to independents as inconsequential “leaners.” But there are the simple, undeniable facts. Independents are the largest and fastest-growing segment of the electorate. 49% of veterans are independent. 52% of Hispanics. 52% of young people. And 30% of African Americans. Voters registering as independents are surging in red and blue states alike; they are now the largest group of voters in states as diverse as Alaska, Oregon, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Arizona. There is a massive exodus taking place in our country from both parties. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, socialists, and millions more who think ideological labels themselves are outdated are declaring their independence from the two-party system. It’s happening.
The why is almost self-evident (which is not an excuse for the media to ignore the trend). Independents, more than any other segment of the electorate, are tired of the culture of partisanship that dominates national politics and political media. We vote, and when we do, we may have a preference for one party over the other, but we despise how they function. We desire a different political environment, one in which disagreement is not converted into division. One where problem-solving can flourish and honesty is rewarded.
But whereas New Hampshire celebrates their independent voters and independent culture, the rest of the country and the national media do not. Which is unfortunate because if it did, America wouldn’t be sleepwalking towards a dreaded rematch between Trump and Biden.
The country needs its Independents. The time has come to give us space on the stage and stop ignoring or denigrating them. That means letting us vote in primaries in every state. Letting us sit on boards of elections. Giving the administration of the entire electoral system over to the independents. It might go a long way to restoring trust in outcomes if partisans weren’t staffing the polls and counting the votes. Stop calling independent candidates “spoilers.” Listen to what we are saying about the sorry state of our political discourse. We are America’s electoral conscience–and its future. The more America elevates independent voters, the stronger America will be. We can help navigate thorny policy questions, get things done for the people, and avoid scorched earth partisan warfare.
“Independent” is not an identity. It’s an anti-identity. It’s a deliberate challenge to the toxic division of partisans who pay the bills by inventing new and more powerful ways to divide the country. That does not mean independents are “in the middle” or “neutral”. Far from it – we share policy views with Rand Paul and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We are conservatives and liberals, moderates and radicals. What it means is that there are 100 million patriotic Americans who want to make a change and get the country out from under the control of a two-party regime that is committed to ripping us apart.
The time has come to listen to us. 2024 is the year. And not just in New Hampshire.
John Opdycke is the Founder and President of Open Primaries, a national advocacy organization committed to ending the partisan control of primary elections.
Paul Rieckhoff is an independent activist, US Army combat veteran, the host of Independent Americans, President of Righteous Media, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the author of “Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq, A Soldier’s Perspective.”