I’ve found the majority of independents to be either Democratic leaning voters (D-Indys) who believe Democrats are unwilling to control their expensive government/ no cost control base and Republican leaning voters (R-Indys) who think Republicans are unwilling to control their socially conservative/anti immigrant base.
The majority of D-Indys believe in most of the roles of government that the Democratic Party endorses, but are unhappy with the poorly managed and failed governmental programs the Democratic Party uncritically supports and defends. The majority of R-Indys are the prototypical “socially liberal – fiscally conservative” independents who are libertarian on social issues and want to cut the size of government, cut entitlements and focus on reducing the debt.
The Questions and issues that must be addressed to build a new “independent” party.
Agreement on The scope and role of Government
Fundamentally there is an unsettled difference between D-Indys and R-Indys about what is really a vital and central issue to all political parties, the essential economic role and regulatory scope of government. Simply agreeing on social policies and that government is run in a way that needlessly wastes tax dollars is not a basis for a political movement.
Funding for a party infrastructure
Without funding, the independent movement can’t support a political consultant class or recruit and retain the “foot soldiers” which are essential to being taken seriously. That’s just the way it is. Consultants who currently work for Democrats or Republicans are not willing to join any independent candidate since they will never get another job with the Republican or Democratic Party again. They will be considered washed up, naïve, or untrustworthy. Not good career paths.
Funding can come from two sources. Institutional funding, as the Republicans and many Democrats rely on, or grassroots small donor funding as some Democrats rely on. But there are huge hurdles to getting either type for independent candidates.
The failure of many independent voter organizers to focus on adopting an agreed to platform for the role and scope of government means institutional funding is not going to happen. Unions, business lobbyists and financial interests know they have friends in the Democratic and Republican Parties. They can’t trust and won’t support the growth of an independent party that hasn’t settled on an accepted economic platform.
Self funded candidates
Self funded candidates come and go. Because they are personal campaigns, they usually leave no infrastructure in place and no institutional legacy. In fact, one shot wonders tend to prove the point of the Democratic and Republican critics. That independent candidates, and therefore independent parties, are not viable.
Grass roots small donor base
A grass roots small donor base is very hard to build and seems to rely on scaring people with a constant barrage of social media posts, emails and letters. No independent movement has tried a robust scare up the money campaign yet, perhaps that is an avenue to pursue. But I believe there are two hurdles. First, many independent voters tell themselves that they want to build bridges and have their candidates work together. Scare emails are counter to that message and may turn off small donor prospects. Secondly, the fact is many if not most independent voters simply don’t trust politics or politicians and are reluctant to support anyone or anything unless they have some more evidence of good outcomes rather than just good intentions. However, the Independent Party has set up a small donor program and we have seen some modest results when we message correctly. A more positive message – with a teaspoon of guilt – has proven somewhat effective.
The other possibility is a taxpayer funded small donor matching program combined with voluntary expenditure restrictions for candidates. This has proven successful in jurisdictions who have adopted such a program in increasing the competition for offices. (perhaps why even most Democratic legislators oppose small donor match programs).
While current office holders may not appreciate more competition, voters sure do. And for the most pessimistic taxpayers who think most politicans are bought by their funders but don’t believe taxpayers should be helping candidates compete for public office, I’d say would you prefer to have public employee unions and some Logging company owners fund politicians or have those pols answer to small donors and taxpayers?
Even if an independent movement can agree on a unified mission statement for the role of government and overcome the funding issue, it also has to cement it’s existence by changing our election architecture. If first past the post voting, gerrymandering, unlimited campaign donations and expenditures remain the norm, we will revert eventually to two parties. While there is a chance that a robust independent party will remain one of those two down the road, it’s more likely that we revert to the Democratic/Republican duopoly. And the fact is, most voters support election reforms of some type. So adopting election reform as a signature issue is not only necessary to retain an independent party, it’s beneficial to it’s growth.
A robust independent movement or independent party will need to get serious about defining and agreeing on the role of government. Including environmental and industrial regulation, consumer protection, health care, social security taxes, the deficit and public debt. And not just a policy of “Reduce deficits”, because that’s simply a goal and not a policy. A policy would be: To reduce deficits we should: A) raise taxes on the wealthy, or we should; B). cut entitlements. Pick one, or like a good independent result oriented voter, support a blend of reasonable policies that we can agree on to reduce the deficit.
Secondly, it must identify and solicit funding from institutional donors, create a small donor grass roots funding mechanism and press for small donor matching program. Without all three legs of a funding stool, any independent movement will not be financially independent enough to compete while continuing to be independent of it’s funding base.
And thirdly, it needs to adopt a robust election and campaign finance reform platform as a signature issue.