The most destructive myth in American politics is the fantasy of the independent voter.
According to the myth, the independent is a voter who has no opinions, ideas, values, ideology, ethics, or philosophy. Instead, the voter is a totally free agent who changes his or her thoughts at the drop of a pin.
Obviously, the independent stereotype is pure fantasy. No human being with a brain lacks values, opinions, ideas, ideology, ethics, or philosophy. Everybody has opinions about politics, including those who claim to have no politics. Claiming to have no politics is a political opinion.
There are No Independent Voters
There are no “independent voters.” Instead, the 38% of American voters pollsters label independent are people the two major parties and mainstream politicians ignore.
In fact, Pew Research estimated that 81% of independents leaned towards the Democratic or Republican parties in 2019. Those people refuse to identify with a party because they do not fit into politicians’ simplistic classification of voters.
For example, an Evangelical Christian who opposes abortion, but thinks Medicare for All is a good idea. What party does that individual fit into? She sympathizes with the Republican cultural position but agrees with the left-wing Democrats’ economic ideas.
I imagine most the 19% of independents who do not lean towards Democrats or Republicans take political positions mainstream politicians refuse to acknowledge. For example, socialists, centrists, Greens, Christian nationalists, nationalists, paleocons, Libertarians, anarchists, etc. Those are legitimate political positions yet American political parties want little to do with them.
Why the Myth of the Independent Voter Exists
The myth of the independent voter exists because it serves the interests of professional politicians.
If Democrats and Republicans can write off anybody who does not fit into their simplistic political classifications as an “independent voter.” They do not have to acknowledge that person or her opinions.
Instead of campaigning among independents, politicians direct commercials at them. If a person is an independent, he or she only receives shallow and simplistic messages.
Politicians assume an independent has no opinion about taxes, elections, race, technology, trade, healthcare, foreign policy, or anything else. Instead, all the politicians give independents is a few sound mindless soundbites. A classic example of such contempt is the brain dead slogan “Defund the Police.”
The slogan is shallow and overemotional fear-mongering at its worst. They never define the words defund or police. Nor do they explain who plans to defund the police, how they plan to defund the police, or what defunding entails.
Why Independents hate politicians
Yet this is the nonsense politicians direct at independent voters. Predictably, such drivel offends voters and drives them away.
Politicians use slogans such as “Defund the Police” because they assume all independents are stupid, ignorant, and gullible. In reality, independents think and get offended by simplistic slogans.
Many independents avoid politics because it offends their intelligence. However, these people respond to and sometimes revere those rare politicians who respect their independence. This explains the success of such figures as former President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida), US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Andrew Yang (?-New York) who respect ordinary people’s intelligence.
Ironically, part of Trump’s popularity is that he just talks to ordinary people. Sanders and Yang also talk to ordinary people. The mainstream media and pundits constantly mock and abuse all three men. Which raises their status in the eyes of many voters and makes them heroes.
Hence, the mythology of the independent voter makes it impossible for many politicians to communicate with enormous segments of the population. The best way for American politicians to reach a mass audience is to abandon the myth of the independent voter and start treating all voters as human beings.