Here is the last 10 years of Survey USA statewide poll results charted out (background data), focussing only on how the respondents identified their partisan affiliation.
Basically, following the trendlines, both the Republican and Democratic parties have lost marketshare and three times since 2006 there have been more identified independents than anything else. Also, in the most recent survey from last fall, the independent identification has a big lead.
It is worth noting that independents have always been strong in Cascadia, but I’m convinced we’re seeing something different in this trend here.
What could have caused this?
I have a couple of theories, but I’m far from totally convinced by them.
I think the Top Two primary had something to do with this. Especially, in combination with a redistricting process in 2010 that had a lot to do with protecting incumbency and not with creating competitive districts between the traditional left and right.
So, since the first Top Two primary in 2008 and redistricting races in 2012, we’re seeing more legislative level races that aren’t competitive between the two major parties. So what do member of a minority ideology do when left in the cold without a standard bearer? I think it’s possible they drop the partisan standard all together.
I think there’s also something wrong with how we structure party politics around here that encourages not identifying as a partisan. Basically, political parties, the local county and legislative district ones, aren’t forces in the lives of most voters or even most activists.
Campaigns can be built, volunteers recruited and advertising funded, without a lot of help from local party officials. The web has a lot to do with this, but the fact that the basic party structure is an obscure elected official called a precinct committee officer probably doesn’t help.
What does this mean?
I think we’re already seeing the impacts of what a possible non-partisan identifying stable plurality or even majority could mean in Washington State. With little buy-in with their actual policies, the Thurston County commission is now made up of conservative independents. There is was also an independent election on the Grays Harbor County commission, a more conservative but still usually solidly Democratic county.
Also, in Grays Harbor, you saw them support a Republican for president for the first time since the Democratic party was near its death in the 1920s in Washington State. My guess is that they voted for Trump not because was running as a Republican, but because he was running as a non-partisan under a partisan label.
What could this mean in the future is two things:
One, maybe Bill Bryant could have won if he’d shed the partisan banner. With 41 percent and growing, the independent population in Washington serves as a much handier base than a shrinking third place identification. It also seemed to me that Bryant ended up not running as really a conservative, but as a better version of the centrist pro-government governor we already have.
And two, on the local level, even more independents. I hope.
It is one thing for three anti-growth regulation independents to be elected in a county that voted overwhelmingly for an urban environmentalist of lands commissioner. That (plus the way we voted for the independents across the county), means that enough voters didn’t know what policies they were actually supporting and just pulled the lever for the non-partisan.
But, what happens when there are two non-labeled candidates in the race? What shortcuts do the voters use to make their decision? Or do low information voters drop out and leave the election to the voters who have their minds made up?