Research by Open Primaries, an organization advocating that states adopt open primaries where voters do not have to register with a political party to vote in that party’s primary, has shown that unaffiliated or independent voter registration has skyrocketed across the country.
As of May 2020, Open Primaries found that the current nationwide voter registration is dominated by Unaffiliated/Independent voters at 40%, followed by Democratic voters at 31% and Republican voters at just 25%.
Colorado voter registration trends over about 15 years.
Based on these trends, Open Primaries calculates that Independent/unaffiliated voters will have 47% support by 2036, nearing a majority of all voters.
Jeremy Gruber is a lawyer and currently the senior vice president for Open Primaries. When asked what was the biggest reason for many voters choosing to opt out of the two-party registration, and instead choose to become independent, stated: “Independent voters are not a monolithic group of voters, they span all types of backgrounds and ideologies. What does unite Independent voters is a strong aversion to either the two major parties and a lack of wanting to participate in a system that isn’t representing them.”
Open Primaries has also called on pollsters to stop using “party leaners” instead of classifying independent voters as independents, stating, “[The] description allows for party leaders, pollsters to ignore independent voters.”
Independents also can not necessarily be kept to a binary “leaner,” as this really does not describe the wide net of voters independents really are, says Gruber. Open Primaries found that “Independents vote for issues not parties,” and that they are “incredibly mobile in terms of support for candidates. Independent voters are anything but predictable,” says Gruber.
We will not, however, likely see independent candidates get elected in the United States, says Gruber.
“You have to differentiate between independent voters and independent candidates,” explains Gruber. “The system is set up to disempower independent voters [and] independent candidates. The rules [put independent voters] at a significant disadvantage, and can be outright shut out of closed primary states… and even election commissions as well,” Gruber elaborates.
What should voters take away from this data? “Every American should be free to register as their conscience asks them to, and they should fight for a system that gives them full equality, not matter what their views are,” says Gruber. “That’s what a democracy is.”
In the 2022 Elections, Open Primaries found that independents broke for Democrats heavily, which created an unusual outcome, based on historical patterns, where the president’s party did not lose significant ground in the midterm. Time will tell how they break next year in the presidential election, as they gain more power within Colorado and the United States.