What is an Independent?

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  • Written By: Sherry Holetzky
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
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In the political realm, an Independent is generally the term used to describe a candidate who is not affiliated with any political party. The word has evolved to some degree and can also be used to describe a candidate who is not a member of a country’s main political parties. In the United States, if one is not a Republican or a Democrat, one might be referred to as an Independent or a third party candidate.

Another reason a candidate might run as an Independent is if one no longer feels in tune with his or her original party. While a candidate may have run and even been elected as a Republican or a Democrat at one time, he or she may feel that neither party is following its platform or effectively representing the people. A commonly used phrase is, “abandoned by the party.” A person who wants to run for office but feels abandoned by his or her party of choice may feel there is no other option but to run as an Independent.

An Independent candidate often has a more centrist or moderate viewpoint than the two main parties, and many people prefer the middle line. Still, they will have trouble voting for an Independent candidate in many situations, since it is very difficult to garner ballot access. The major parties like it that way and ballot access for an Independent has become more and more difficult to obtain over the years.


While an Independent could once receive ballot access after collecting signatures, no small task considering the fact that the number of signatures needed was generally in the tens of thousands, it was still simpler than a showing of voter support. In many cases today, the Independent candidate is required to show voter support, and the necessary percentage can be anywhere from 1% to 15% of the votes collected during the previous election. In state elections, a candidate may receive “write-in” votes, where voters write in the candidate’s name instead of choosing from those names listed on the ballot.

As more people become concerned with the state of this nation and the rest of the world and become more politically active, an Independent candidate has a better chance of being elected. Constituents who don’t believe that the major parties are serving their interests are beginning to push for equal access for Independent candidates in terms of ballots, debates, and even funding. In some cases, they vote for an Independent to show the party they are registered with that its performance is unacceptable.


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Post 6

@bythewell - To me, that's the problem with this kind of "first past the post" voting system. I much prefer the systems they use in some countries in Europe, where the government is formed with percentages rather than a majority rules. The majority will still be in basic control, but it will be a true majority, rather than the situation you just described, because the two left leaning candidates can join together in order to form a majority, even though one is from a major party and one is independent.

Post 5

@clintflint - I think that independent candidates will still be a rarity and most people will try to fit into one party or another. The problem is that no matter how the country changes, each party will continue to have two core groups that will always vote for them, no matter what happens. Since those core groups are more than enough to overwhelm any independent candidates, there's no point in them running.

If anything, they can actually harm their goals by running, as they might split the vote on the side they lean towards. So, a left leaning independent can pull votes away from a democrat candidate, allowing the republican to win, even though more people wanted someone from the left to be in power.

Post 4

It will be interesting to see what will happen when the internet generation become the main breadwinners in the world and begin to expect to be able to participate in politics in an online forum. I imagine that would give Independents more of a boost, as if they can reach out to enough voters online (relatively cheap if they do it the right way, compared to television ads and so forth) they might be able to get enough votes to make a difference.

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