With presidential primaries dominating the news, the national consciousness is increasingly preoccupied with who will win the nominations. Fairly extreme conservatives and liberals are both vying for the position. However, the race thus far has shown that very few of our nation’s millennials are aligning themselves with either party; a 2014 PEW Research Center analysis showed that 48 percent of millennial voters now identify as independents. The likely explanation for this trend is the prominence in both major parties of politicians touting extreme, hardline messages that moderates don’t support.
America’s political atmosphere is extremely charged, with Democrats and Republicans showcasing increasingly polarized agendas. Ultra-conservative evangelicals preaching a regressive message are a mainstay within the Republican party and some Democrats have begun to advocate for a complete override of the political and economic system we currently have. Moderates generally do not agree with either stance, leaving this voting group largely unaffiliated.
This growing absence of party affiliation is a positive change because it may help to stop people from voting for a certain candidate simply because they share a party. No one should be tied down to one political philosophy; people should have the opportunity to explore different opinions and methods. Independents have the option to step back and look at the ideas of both parties and then decide who they would like to support.
However, America’s election process presents a considerable challenge for the independent faction. During the primaries, many of the states hold closed caucuses, which means that in order to vote in those primaries, you must be a registered member of the voting party. This unfairly excludes valuable independent voters from the primaries and discourages them from participating in the elections. Every state caucus should be open, allowing voters to participate without labeling themselves.
Accommodating independents would not only help ensure that presidential candidates are selected based on the desires of the populace, it will also help quell polarization. In the primaries, candidates of both factions have to appeal to the hardliners because they are the ones who vote in the caucuses, while independents cannot always participate.
Accordingly, politicians pick increasingly extreme positions until a satisfying compromise seems nearly impossible. Perhaps if we tried harder to include independent voters in the primary elections, the candidates’ hardline attitudes would be replaced by more moderate messages that a larger number of voters could agree with.
The rise in independent millennial voters is a very welcome change and it has the potential to challenge today’s highly polarized political environment. Not only that, but this shift among voters is also poised to encourage everyone to think critically about their beliefs and whether those beliefs are simply driven by party affiliation or by true, personal ideologies.
Conor Devlin ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from New York, N.Y. He majors in English.