More Nebraska voters opting for independent status

By Kelsey Newman, NewsNetNebraska

The phenomenon of the rising number of political independents is a nationwide trend, and experts think it may continue.

Nebraska is no exception.

This year, about 19 percent of active Nebraska voters were nonpartisans, up from about 14 percent in 2000.

“We are living in the most extreme nonpartisan times since the Civil War,” said Elizabeth Thesis-Morse, political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

While some independents — those who don’t align with a major political party — are moderates, not all are, Thesis-Morse said. Many vote Democratic or Republican.

“Only about 10 percent are pure independents, not siding with Democrats or Republicans,” Thesis-Morse said. “But they will vote for the lesser of two evils.”


Click here to see an interactive graph of the increase of independents in Nebraska.

In reviewing a report from the Pew Research Center, Thesis-Morse observed that a growing percentage of Republicans consider themselves more conservative and a rising number if Democrats who say they’re more liberal. That can force the moderates out of the traditional parties and into the nonpartisan ranks.

Additionally, important issues for people are not always addressed by the parties, said UNL professor Sergio Wals, so they often look for a political identity outside the Democratic or Republican parties.

Some individuals just have a hard time finding their place in the two major parties, Wals said.

Young voters are a major force in the trend of increased non-partisanship, and the growth of the foreign-born population becoming eligible to vote also has contributed to the increase, Wals said.

“Independents have been increasing because of the minority voters are increasing as a proportion in the electorate,” Wals said. “Among Latinos there has been an increase in independents, which can be explained by some issues either not being addressed or barley addresses such as immigration reform.”

Whether or not Nebraska continues to see an increase in independent voters may depend on whether people are happy with a president’s policy decisions, Thesis-Morse said.

“Whoever gets elected could mean that their party could benefit by gaining or losing people that identify with that party,” she said.

Although independents will have to choose between Democrat and Republican in this year’s presidential election, the rising number of nonpartisans signals a future change from the traditional two-party system, Thesis-Morse said.

Wals said it would be interesting to see if and when independents can swing an election.

“Independents increasing 5 percent of electorate in Nebraska alone over the last 10 years is a significant increase, but not one that has the capacity to swing the election — yet.”

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