The power of “independents”
In American politics, our partisan divides are rivaled only by our insistence on a mythological, common “American-ness,” constituted by appeals to the Founders/Framers (capital “F” mandatory), to freedom/liberty, and to our rugged, independent nature. Even though the vast majority of Americans identify with one of the two major political parties, most of us like to think of ourselves as “independent,” as it gives us an air of objectivity, astute skepticism, and non-ideological rationality.
But as political scientist John Sides angrily reminds the propagators of the “Great American Independent” myth (Fareed Zakaria and Matt Bai in this case), it just isn’t the case that independents are the driving force in American politics. Most studies show that most so-called independents aren’t actually independent, and those who are account for less than 10% of the electorate.
The interesting philosophical questions here surround (1) the attractiveness of the “independent” label to American voters themselves, and (2) the attractiveness of the “independent” meme in the coverage of politics by the media. Not surprisingly, both trends reinforce the other; popular commentators aren’t just reacting to citizens’ professed ideologies – they’re helping to form them by continually playing up the refreshing, non-biased role of the reasonable moderate.