“Unaffiliated” is the fastest-growing political identification. In the aftermath of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, tens of thousands of Republican voters changed their party registration, with most registering as independents or with a minor political party. According to Gallup, 50% of all U.S. adults now identify as political independents, the highest percentage ever recorded by the organization. Party membership is declining in almost every state in the country.
At the same time, our electoral framework rewards party membership. This is most obvious in closed primaries, where only party members have a say in the outcome. More broadly, partisanship shapes all aspects of politics, including redistricting, campaign finance, election administration, and even who serves as a poll worker or certifies the votes.
With unaffiliated voters on the rise, a party-focused election system does not reflect America. To shape those parties to look more like America - or to create a new way that does not involve the major parties - requires a better understanding of why so many Americans are identifying as independents. This can lead to a new path forward, and political reformers, journalists, candidates, and elected officials all have critical roles to play.