The number of registered voters in California who have chosen the non-partisan affiliation of “Independent” or “Decline to State” is on the rise. These voters tend to have political and social views that do not fully mesh with the major parties, Republican and Democrat nor other minority parties such as the Libertarian or Green party. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, there has been a 3 percent rise in the number of independent voter designations from four years ago from 24.7 percent to 27.7 percent. In contrast, Democratic registration is down from 44.6 percent to 43.6 percent and Republican registration is down from 30.8 percent to 28.7 percent. It appears that voters in California are gradually becoming disillusioned with both major political parties.
Trends in the state of California have a history of being precursors for nationwide trends and according to the Pew Research Center, as of 2009 the national “proportion of independents now equals its highest level in 70 years.” Apparently, Californians are not the only voters who have become disillusioned with the Democratic and Republican parties and the trend towards more independent voters on a national level has continued.
In March of this year, the Secretary of State released the official voter registration report for the 2014 political campaign season, which includes the November midterm elections. In California, 73.4 percent of some 17,660,257 residents have registered and 27.7 percent of them are independents. Historically, independents tend to lean towards the left. However, with approximately 40 percent of California independents currently defining themselves as “moderate or middle-of-the-road,” compared to 30 percent who either identify left or right, both the Republicans and Democrats in the state are hoping to woo the independent vote.
It is likely that, given the political and cultural makeup of the state of California, which has long been far left and considered by liberals to be socially enlightened, the Democrats will continue to have the edge in the majority of the upcoming elections when it comes to garnering the independent vote. Primarily this is because of the social issues facing the nation and the state whether it be on the issue of illegal immigration or LGBT rights. While California independents lean more towards the right when it comes to finance and the over-regulation of businesses, on the social issues they still align with the Democratic Party. For example, in California, 69 percent of Democrats and independents are in favor of legalized same-sex marriage while 58 percent of Republicans in the state are opposed. The social and cultural issues are what tend to prevent independents from voting Republican. Despite their desire for fiscal sanity in California, many independents simply cannot reconcile the disparity in their social views and vote with the Republican Party.
As the fastest growing political party in California, independents are gradually moving into a position where they may actually be able to significantly influence the outcome of elections in the state. Their role as “swing voters” is drawing attention from both major political parties. Democrats, while being able to count on the independent vote in the past, may want to revisit that complacency and take a hard look at the independent voters. It can be assumed that the Republican Party is closely examining these voters and looking for any opportunity to garner their vote. It remains to be seen if the Republican Party can amend their message in a way that the left leaning independents can accept, especially when it comes to social issues. However, even in the mostly liberal state of California, Republican voters are adamant that the conservative platform not be further watered down just to gain votes.
The game of crafting a compelling and palatable message is one that Democrats have excelled at and in doing so, they have built a strong and loyal liberal voting base, even if it is built on a foundation of manipulation and fundamentally, is economically flawed. Independent voters are on the rise in California but the question is whether they will choose to vote for the economic stability that the Republican Party represents or the touchy-feely social platform the Democratic Party has so successfully employed. Critical to this decision is the knowledge that without economic stability, the state of California will not be able to fund its social programs, a fact that independents should take into consideration when they enter the voting booth.
Opinion by Alana Marie Burke