Response to Comments on Independent Voters

By Wendy Kaminer

voters-Logan Mock Bunting-getty.jpgBy questioning the presumed virtues of independent voters as a group, I was not suggesting that individual voters have paramount civic obligations to identify with either major party. Independents share Democratic perspectives on some issues and Republican perspectives on others (according to Pew,) so I'm not denigrating them for eschewing party membership.  There are also logistic reasons not to enroll in a party: I'm officially un-enrolled partly in the hope of cutting down on junk mail and partly in response to the Massachusetts primary system. 


But individual voters do have obvious civic obligations to remain politically informed and engaged as well as principled -- not whimsical or simply self-interested - when they enter the voting booth. Of course, self-interest is a powerful motivator for partisan as well as non-partisan voters, which is why presidents like to hand out tokens of their affection, like $300 tax rebates or $250 in recovery assistance to social security beneficiaries (regardless of actual need). But the less voters know, the less attention they pay to politics and policy and the less they trust the basic processes of democracy (elections,) the more likely they seem to be guided by self-interests unmitigated by information and ideals. And, (again, according to Pew) "independents score far lower than either Democrats or Republicans" on "an index of political interest and engagement." They are also "consistently skeptical about the electoral process."  
   
You can take pride in this skepticism, considering it a sign of sophistication (and when skepticism means a disinclination to believe what you want to believe, regardless of evidence, I applaud it). But you might also ask yourself why, if skepticism is on the increase, so is misinformation: facts have rarely seemed to matter less. You might regard skepticism about representative democracy with some wariness: As I suggested earlier, it can devolve into cynicism, crude situational ethics, and a tolerance for self-interested lies, none of which signals sophistication so much as surrender. 

(Photo: Logan Mock Bunting/Getty Images)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/11/response-to-comments-on-independent-voters/30336/