Independents could have a big impact on local politics

Two recent surveys now show that Independent voters are gaining traction as America’s silent third party, and it may be in local elections where they show the most influence.

The Suffolk University/USA Today survey findings from June and July are not shocking: Voters are upset with political party leaders, and they want more choices.  In a July 28 Suffolk University national survey, 33.4% of registered voters thought of themselves as “Independent or Other.” That total was ahead of people who identified as Democrats (31.8%) or Republicans (31.2%).  Independents viewed the economy as the country’s biggest issue and only 15% thought Democratic and Republican leaders were doing a good job in office. In the national poll, 46% of Independents said they were moderates.

A Suffolk University June state survey showed these frustrations in Pennsylvania. More than 81% of Independents wanted open primaries in Pennsylvania.  And their biggest concerns, as in the national polls, were with the economy and inflation (40%).

The registration gap between the Ds and Rs was 7,545 voters. That doesn’t count 80,000 Bucks County voters who are not registered Democrats or Republicans.

It is very possible Independents could play a role in the current races for governor, Congress, and the Senate in Pennsylvania. But they most likely will have the biggest impact on local politics in 2023, where county and municipal elections have smaller voting margins. In Bucks County, where I am a Borough elected official, the official countywide voter registration difference, as of August 8, between Democrats (42.4%) and Republicans (40.9) was 1.5%. In other words, the registration gap between the Ds and Rs was 7,545 voters. That doesn’t count 80,000 Bucks County voters who are not registered Democrats or Republicans.

Another trend from Suffolk University’s national poll showed that among the self-identified Independents, 34% were registered Democrats, while 28% were registered Republicans. If that trend applies to Bucks County, at least 20% of registered Ds or Rs are not necessarily committed to their registered party.

Uncommitted voters can influence local elections: This I have seen from personal experience. In 2021, I was one of three Independent or third-party candidates to win a major municipal race in Bucks County, out of 277 contests. In my Borough Council Ward race, Republicans, Democrats and Independents supported me as a non-partisan candidate. We could see more Independent candidate efforts next year in local races where petition requirements are easier to meet.  However, Independent candidates probably are not viable in the countywide races because of campaign costs.

The Independents could swing county races if Democratic and Republican campaigns can reach Independent-minded voters. How that happens remains to be seen, especially when Independent moderates are not happy with extreme positions held by some political leaders. Also, more than 37% of Independents said they mistrusted media sources in the Suffolk national poll, so they may not be easily influenced by traditional media campaign tactics.

More than 37% of Independents said they mistrusted media sources … so they may not be easily influenced by traditional media campaign tactics.

Suffolk national poll,

Expect the Independents, in their silent way, to be the game changers at a grassroots level.

Scott Bomboy serves on Perkasie Borough Council in Bucks County and has frequently written about election and constitutional issues.