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The Early Twentieth Century

One of the first major statistical studies devoted to independent voters in 1912 used extensive arithmetic to show that shortly before the beginning of the twentieth century and up to the dawn of the Progressive Era, independent voting was increasing in every election at an unforeseen rate (Chapin, 1912). A subsequent article in 1932 showed that since the 1900 election, more and more voters were switching votes between the major parties up until FDR’s first election in year of the article’s publication (Ogburn and Jaffe, 1936).

Even in the 1930s, it was deduced that urban areas experienced more instances of party switching and independent voting than rural areas (Ogburn and Jaffe, 1936). The same is true in 2012, as urban areas in Ohio buoyed Romney to win the state by 1%, whereas rural areas went for the more hard-line and less independent Rick Santorum. The same went for Illinois.

Independent voters have been more likely to stabilize the political process and often vote with the man or woman in power, but abandon them in times of economic downturn.

Historians have pointed to the youth as a strong independent voting block, which have been noted to vote for “undecided” in primaries or be less sure than older voters in the electorate as early as the 1940s (Bower, 1948).

The same claim was made just before the 1964 election, claiming that independent and swing voters–not registered party members–”really decide the winner” (“Politics ’64,” 1964).  A growing amount of college students and youth, enfranchised by the GI bill and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, contributed to a 1970 argument that “an independent political majority” could emerge “in the near future,” specifically in the presidential elections (Seagull, 1971).

A scantily covered Supreme Court case, Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut (1986), enfranchised independent voters by striking down a state law that forced parties to have closed primaries; this infringed on a party’s right to free association. A political party could have a closed primary but it could not be mandated by a state legislature. This opened the way to the various primary systems that exist today.

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