Jackie Salit, the president of Independentvoting.org and author of “Independents Rising” talks about the independent voter movement and its potential impact on future elections.
Ted Simons: Horizon's Vote 2012 coverage continues tonight with a closer look at independent voters. They represent 33% of Arizona's registered voters, about three percentage points higher than the number of registered Democrats. It's the first time in state history that independents outnumber voters belonging to one of the two major political parties. Do bigger numbers translate to greater political impact? Here to talk about that is Jackie Salit president of independentvote.org and author "independence rising." The forum taking the partisan out of politics is sponsored by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Thanks for joining us.
Jacqueline Salit: Thank you so much for having me.
Ted Simons: Taking partisan out of politics: Is that viable?
Jacqueline Salit: I surely hope so. And apparently so does about 40% of the country. That's actually the size of the independent voter block nationally. You said here in Arizona it's 33%.There are just so many Americans who feel frustrated and angry and upset about the role that the parties are playing and about the need they feel we've got to take the partisanship out of politics.
Ted Simons: You've got that frustration and anger. How do you move past a two-party system?
Jacqueline Salit: Well, actually I think what independents are concerned with is moving past a party system. That it's not just an issue of a two-party system, but it's an issue of the extent to which the political process has become so thoroughly inculcated with the values of party politics, of partisanship, of partisan competition, and lost touch with the need for progress and the need for full representation for all the American people to participate in a Democratic policy-making process. There are so many problems that the country faces obviously. And I think increasingly people feel that the parties don't have the answers, and that they are more concerned to preserve their own political power than they are with figuring out how to move forward.
Ted Simons: What happened? Has that always been the case as far as you can see or is the polarization getting worse of late?
Jacqueline Salit: It's getting worse. And the reaction to it is getting stronger. You know, the -- this trend towards independence, that the parties look at it and in my opinion they actually don't take the seriously enough. In 2008 independents supported Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. They actually gave him the Democratic nomination. They were allowed to vote in 33 states with open primaries and caucuses. Independents then voted for him by an Eight-point margin the general election. The democrats said all the independents are Democrats now. In the midterm elections two years later, they voted in support of GOP candidates for Congress. Then the Republican Party says the independents are Republicans. Not so. Independents are independent, and they want to see a change in the way the political culture of our system operates.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask that question. From where you sit and from your background with independent voters and independent movements, who is the independent voter? Who are these people?
Jacqueline Salit: They are Americans who span the political spectrum. Based on traditional ideological categories. Left, center, right, liberal, conservative, all of those values or labels or whatever. They fit into all of those categories if you look at independents as a whole. But the thing that binds independents together is this concern about process. What independents will come together around is political reform issues like open primaries, for example. And this is an issue that is now, you know, on the table here in Arizona, proposition 121, which is a top-two open primary nonpartisan initiative put on the ballot by 366,000 Arizona voters signing a petition to give voters the option to choose that system. These kinds of reforms are spreading around the country. It was just passed in California in 2010. They basically start to redistribute political power out of the hands of the parties and give political power more directly to the people.
Ted Simons: Giving political power more directly to the people, it seems from a distance, can only go so far before a lot of those people join together, becoming a bloc which formed a group. That would seem to be a party, would it not? In order to get things done.
Jacqueline Salit: I'm sure you're thinking about the history of this country. Many, many movements, whether it was the abolitionist movement or the women's suffrage movement or the civil rights movement, were outsider movements that gained expression in the main stream when one our more of the parties picked up the issue. The Republican Party was formed to oppose slavery. This is kind of a paradox but I think it's very interesting. The issue motivating people to become independents is that they don't like parties. They want to, as we were just saying, take power out of the hands of parties and give to it ordinary people. It's hard to imagine a political party embracing that issue since it means that they would be voluntarily giving up their own political power. I don't think that's going to happen. But independents have tremendous leverage because they are such a huge force within the body politic, but more importantly they are starting to become more organized and that's the new thing going on.
Ted Simons: It brings me to the question, are these -- I keep saying these -- I'm an independent, who's kidding who? I'm an independent voter for a variety of reasons no one really cares to go into now. So I kind of understand all of this. Yet I also know it seems as if there are very few if any independent candidates out there. The few out there, certainly in Arizona, don't win public office. The two major parties seem like they get things done to the extent that they want to get things done. Collaboration, working together seems to be a lost art. Stuff gets done but there's a lot of turmoil. Independents seem as if they are always on the outside throwing a rock are trying push something in a certain direction. How do you get past that?
Jacqueline Salit: That's why reforms like nonpartisan primaries, because they are so vital. They change that dynamic, change that chemistry. Once you level the playing field and allow all voters to participate in all round of voting -- which is what the nonpartisan primary does -- then it's no longer the case that independents are on the outside. Then the people who are saying, hey, we've got to put the national interests ahead of party interests. We have to find ways to come up with new and innovative solutions. Which is very hard to do because you have so much entrenched special interests based in both of the major parties and exert so much political influence over policy. If you start to change the structure, then you can change the culture. That's really what independents are saying now.
Ted Simons: It's what you talked about early, the idea of a suffragette movement or any kind. It doesn't become Democrats or Republicans are locked into this. It's people locked into this issue, people locked into that particular issue.
Jacqueline Salit: Yeah, yeah. And that's so important also, I think. Because one of the things that's happening because of the rise of the independent voters, is that the whole meaning of political form is starting to change. There's been a history of good government movement in this country, which basically saw itself as trying to reform policy-making but to leave the party system intact. Now that you have 33% of elect erect who are independents - and that number is growing, by the way. Everybody is predicting within six months' time the independent voter bloc is going to eclipse of Democrat agents Republicans, too. When you have that kind of situation the parties start to appear to be more retrograde. They are repressing development, holding back innovation. And independents, so many Americans, including people by the way who register into political parties so they can vote in primaries, but so many Americans want to find a new way to do politics, a new way to talk about issues, a new way to build coalitions. Under the party system you can't do it.
Ted Simons: So with that in mind, you don't necessarily see this mass of independents out there in the middle or wherever they are floating around, necessarily coalescing into some sort of third, fourth or fifth party. You still see them, what, as just influences on the two major parties? What do you see in the future?
Jacqueline Salit: I see them as what we sometimes call a fusion force. Third parties were very popular and important in the 1990s, for example, with the Perot movement and the candidacy of Ralph Nader, two very controversial initiatives whatever people think about them. But independents did gravitate in that direction. After the 1990s you start to see a different trend, which is that independents don't like parties. They don't want to form an organization which is going to replicate the dominant political culture. They want to create new forms of association and new forms of participation that don't require them to be a party, to be in a party. But they want to be able to participate fully in the life of the political process. So we need to do come up with political reforms that allow that to happen.
Ted Simons: Won't that happen just basically, nature takes its course? I mean, this becomes such a huge mass of individuals, you mentioned the retrograde of the two major parties as this middle keeps growing, eventually someone's got to pay attention, don't they?
Jacqueline Salit: Oh, yeah. I think a lot of people are paying attention; they just don't want to empower this grouping. They want to pa toll independent voters to vote for this candidate or that candidate or that party or this party and all of that. The independents for Barack Obama in 2008 was a statement of a push towards a post-partisan political process. But the president go to the Washington and I think the parties sat him down and said, hey, let me tell you how it's going to go, friend. We ain't doing post partisan here, that's not how it goes. But that's what independents want. I think political leaders are going to emerge who recognize that, whether they are in a party or not, and create partnerships with independent voters that are going push the envelope on this political reform front.
Ted Simons: The book is independence rising. You are with independent voting.org. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.
Jacqueline Salit: Thanks so much for having me.