Even though American politics is focused on two binary political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, the 2016 primary cycle has shown that independents are the voters to watch. In fact, independents are the fastest growing constituency of American voters. Surprising, right? Not only are independents the fastest growing group of voters, but according to a Pew Research Center report, more Americans are registered as independents than as Republicans or Democrats.
This may come as a surprise considering how much attention is paid to the two main political parties in the United States, but Pew reported that 39 percent of Americans identify as independents, while 32 percent are registered Democrats, and only 23 percent are members of the Republican Party. Furthermore, the percentage of independents in the United States has grown by nine points since 2004, from 30 to 39 percent.
The Pew study also shows that as of 2014, 48 percent of America leaned toward the Democratic Party, whereas 39 percent tended toward the Republican Party. That means that more independents vote Democrat than Republican, and would explain why there is so much controversy on the Democratic side as to whether or not independents should be allowed to vote in the primaries.
While there are justifiable arguments on both sides of this issue, it is understandable why independents are frustrated that they cannot vote in many of the presidential primaries: They're the largest constituency of American voters!
Furthermore, there is an obvious reason why a Democratic Party candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, wants independents to be able to vote: Sanders himself is an independent. By running on a Democratic ticket, Sanders was able to garner supporters in the largest of the two main political parties (the Democrats) and draw support from independents — 18 percent of independents lean toward the Democratic Party, according to a recent Gallup poll. For these reasons, it comes as little surprise that The Washington Post reported that on average, Sanders receives 30 percent of his votes from independents.
Understandably, Sanders does better in states with open primaries where independent voters can vote. However, contrary to popular belief, even though Sanders receives a large portion of his votes from independents, Sanders has lost more open primaries than he's won. That's right, as of April 27, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had won 11 open contests — in which independents can vote — whereas Sanders had only won seven.
It's statistics like these that make it difficult to comprehend the impact of independent voters. They may be the largest constituency, but it's clear that independents do not always vote for the same candidate — which is presumably due to the fact that they are by definition independent.
No matter how fast the independent constituency of American voters is growing, independents are difficult to count on because they are by nature not loyal to either of the two most powerful American political parties. The 2016 primary cycle has made it clear that figuring out exactly who independents will vote for, and what impact they will have in an election, is incredibly difficult.