For starters, independent voters would like the rest of America to know that we’re a force to be reckoned with, if only for the fact that we represent at least a third of the electorate and as much as 42 percent. Even if you go with the lower percentage, we still outnumber Republicans, and we’re gaining on Democrats. Still, there’s a perception that an overwhelming majority of Americans are Democrats and Republicans, plus a smattering of independents. Not so. And we’re not just an equal force, we’re also a growing force.

To give this some perspective, in 1988 only 10 percent of registered voters identified themselves as independents. That’s huge growth over two decades. With roughly 145 million registered voters in the U.S. today, politicians have 48 million of us to contend with. And they know we can make or break an election.

A second point is this: Nothing irks a true independent more than the suggestion that we’re partisans in disguise. The word “independent” has a certain rugged-individualist ring to it, the thinking goes, one that appeals to our pioneer instincts but has little to do with our voting habits. I beg to differ, and so do many of my independent friends and acquaintances. We self-identify as independents for a host of reasons, and we do not identify with either major party, nor are we “party-leaning.”

The thing is this: of course there are lots of independent voters who are independent by default — just as there are plenty of voters who are Democrats or Republicans by default. But just as I wouldn’t judge committed partisans by the uncommitted partisans in their ranks, I wouldn’t want to be judged by the uncommitted in my ranks. So let’s establish here and now that I’m talking about committed independents and the many political activists who are independent voters.

Because independents exist along the ideological spectrum — from ultra conservative to ultra liberal and all stops in between — we will never agree on social issues like abortion, gay marriage, the economy, health care, immigration, and others (although most independents oppose the war in Iraq, but often for very different reasons).

What we do agree on is the need for radical political reform, and that’s what has strengthened the growing independent movement in the U.S. I’ll get into specific political reforms another time. But what else do we have in common? Here are some characteristics of some independents (we’re too independent to agree completely on even this list):

  • We’re tired of two parties whose priority is acquiring and maintaining power rather than serving the people who voted them into office.
  • We have no problem voting for someone who has no chance of winning.
  • We vote for the person and not the party.
  • We seldom vote a straight, major-party ticket.
  • We are not undecided. We have decided to be independent.
  • We believe that a diversity of opinions stimulates healthy debate.
  • We want dialogue, not diatribes.
  • We want a government that follows the will of the people instead of one that manipulates it.
  • We care as much about what happens on every other day as on Election Day.
  • We want Ralph Nader to keep on running, even if we don’t vote for him. We probably need to apologize for that.
  • We are anti-party, and yet we welcome third-party voters and candidates to join us under the independent umbrella, because they’re also outsiders.
  • We believe the United States is better than this.

That’s just the beginning. There’s so much more we want the country to understand about us. Next time, I’ll look at some of the dirty political tricks independents are fighting against so the rest of the country doesn’t have to.

Marcia Ford is the author of We the Purple: Faith, Politics and the Independent Voter.

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