I live in Utah, one of the most Republican-leaning states in the country, right? And yet, the majority of voters are not registered Republicans. In fact, only 31.5% are registered as Republicans, and only 7.4% as Democrats. Nearly 61% are registered as “unaffiliated” or independents. Then why does the Republican tail wag the Utah dog? Because Independents mistakenly think they’re powerless and alone.
Independents have three problems: 1) we think we don’t have the numbers to do anything; 2) we think we couldn’t come to agreement as a group on anything consistently enough to form any kind of cohesive influence; and 3) we’re seldom willing to contribute money and time to candidates or issues because we don’t live and die by single issues.
I think we’re wrong. We’re obviously wrong about the numbers. In Utah, as in most other places, independents constitute the plurality, if not the majority. Granted, many independents are simply uninterested in politics. But we cared enough not to simply put our parents’ party affiliation. And enough are interested in what happens to make a HUGE difference.
Secondly, we’re wrong about coming to a consensus on anything. It’s precisely the independents who can objectively, without the blinders of single-issue mania, see that our system is breaking, and that the only way to fix it is to bring back compromise and bi- or multipartisanship. Only the independents can make the center (where the general population is) politically significant. Our issue needs to be good governance rather than all the politicized issues out there that have no place in the halls of government.
The third doubt is the toughest, because it’s the truest. Most of us independents don’t care enough to put anything into the political process. However, a breaking point is approaching when the independent center must make its weight felt in order to preserve the forms of good governance. If the independent center does nothing, we will one day suddenly find ourselves standing in a country torn in half by the money on the fringes.
So what does an independent do? First, realize s/he is part of the centrist majority. Second, learn about issues that affect us, and look into both sides to find common ground (this is really hard, because we often have to admit we’ve been wrong and we have to stretch our comfort zones and put ourselves in others’ shoes—but it must be done). Third, talk to other centrists and independents about solutions to issues. Fourth, start letter-writing campaigns to target elected officials. If an official receives 10-12 of the same letter, we have his/her attention because we have shown that a) we’re talking about the issues, b) we’re organized, c) we’re watching him/her, and d) we care enough to act. Officials also know that if there are a dozen people who sign the letter, there are several dozen more who have heard our opinions and are within our circle of influence. And so with a dozen letters, we make ourselves a voting block, a “special interest group.”
Good governance isn’t sexy. It isn’t a hot-button issue that gets the rank and file to open their wallets and pound the pavement. But it may be the most important issue we can advocate in our current political climate.