Politics is so indie right now.
As in, record shares of the public are identifying as political independents. But Democratic and Republican candidates needn't fret. They aren't likely about to be replaced en masse by nonpartisan challengers.
The latest evidence that going independent is in vogue can be found in Arizona. Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) announced Monday that independent voter registration surpassed Republican registration. There are currently about 4,000 more independent voters than Republicans in a pool of more than 3 million. Democrats lag behind independents in the conservative leaning state by about 170,000.
"The rise of the independent voters in Arizona mirrors national trends of voter registration." said Bennett. "With more than forty percent of Americans identifying themselves as independents, our state’s nonaffiliated voters are seemingly less concerned with partisan rhetoric rather than results."
Arizona is not alone. According to an Independent Voter Network summary last year, in at least five states that track party affiliation -- Massachusetts, Alaska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut -- at least 42 percent of voters were registered as independents. January data from Gallup showed that 42 percent of Americans, on average, identified as independents in 2013 -- the highest percentage recorded since Gallup started calling the public to gauge opinions.
Gallup's data trend showed that Republican Party affiliation has declined in recent years. And Arizona is ruby red conservative terrain. So should Republicans be worried about the growing ranks of independents and shrinking ranks of Republicans? No.
The reason why is the GOP has proven they can win independent voters. Mitt Romney carried independents and other non-Democrats/Republicans by five points in 2012. Ken Cuccinelli (R) won independents in the Virginia governor's race last year. Both lost. But not because they did not win independents.
The reality is that independent voters tend to align themselves with one party or the other, even if they refuse to be labeled as such. A 2012 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that only 13 percent fit the mold of true "deliberators." Most independents are more accurately described as leaners, as this 2009 chart from our colleague John Sides shows:
Take Massachusetts, where independents have outnumbered Democrats for decades. The party has dominated congressional elections nonetheless.
Even as the pool of independent voters grows, it's not much more likely that an independent candidate for president will be more successful by leaps and bounds than in the past. These voters are still likely to look seriously at supporting major party candidates.
Given the gridlock that has defined Washington in recent years, there are plenty of reasons for voters not to like either party. So it's no surprise that the voters are as reluctant as ever to wear the "D" or "R" label.
But when they step into the voting booth, it's a different story.