Why We Misunderstand Independent Voters

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Is everything we know about independent voters wrong? Two experts share insights on this growing population.

Independent voters make up more than 40 percent of the voting public. But you wouldn’t know that from media coverage, which focuses almost exclusively on red versus blue. Independents are often overlooked or seen as wishy-washy, bending in the wind. Our guests on this episode say that’s a big misconception.

In this show, we look at a group of voters, including many young people, that is making up a growing slice of the US population.

Our guests are Jackie Salit and John Opdycke. Jackie is the author of Independents Rising and president of Independent Voting, an organization dedicated to bringing respect, recognition and reform to independent voters. John Opdycke is president of Open Primaries, which campaigns for primary elections in which every American can vote, not just Republicans or Democrats.

In a wide ranging discussion John and Jackie say that independents are not moderates: They envision a much less divisive political system than the current one, and they want to play a bigger role in American democracy.

Hear more on the latest episode of Let’s Find Common Ground.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 76 – Why We Misunderstand Independent Voters

Jackie Salit

Jackie Salit is President of Independent Voting, a national strategy, communications, and organizing center that works to connect independent voters across the U.S. and is a 30-year veteran of the independent and reform movements. She also serves as co-director for the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy at Arizona State University.

Salit hosts regular national conference calls with hundreds of activist independents nationwide. Her firsthand account of this growing and influential voting bloc, Independents Rising: Outsider Movements, Third Parties and the Struggle for a Post-Partisan America, was published in 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan.

An architect of independent presidential runs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Salit played a central role in the 1988 “Two Roads are Better Than One” campaign of Lenora Fulani, the first African American to achieve 50-state ballot access. Salit was a frontline figure in shaping a coalition with Ross Perot and the Perot movement which led to the founding of the Reform Party in 1997.

In 2008, Salit’s network of independent voters galvanized support for Barack Obama in the open Democratic primaries, key to Obama’s primary win over Hillary Clinton and his general election win over John McCain.

John Opdycke

John Opdycke is the President of Open Primaries. He is an activist and strategist with 25 years of experience working in independent, alternative and reform politics. He is one of the country’s most visible and vocal advocates for primary reform.

Opdycke began his career as a fundraiser and researcher for the Rainbow Lobby, which advocated for ballot access and debate reform in the United States and supported the pro-democracy movement in the Congo (Zaire). In 1992, he joined Dr. Lenora Fulani’s independent campaign for president as a regional fundraising director, and in 1994 assisted Dr. Fulani in her campaign against Mario Cuomo in the New York Democratic Party gubernatorial primary. In 1998, he became the director of development of IndependentVoting.org, and between 1999 and 2014 expanded IndependentVoting.org’s fundraising from $50,000 to $1 million annually.

He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, PBS, and NBC, and his written commentary on independent politics and electoral reform has appeared in USA Today, Newsweek, The Hill, and dozens of local publications.

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