I asked another question that sounds similar. I was thinking about political independents. I was wondering if they are less likely to have strong views on issues. This would make sense because political parties have largely become ideological coalitions within the US.

What I didn't realize at the time when I said was that I was talking about being "engaged" as ideological. For example, I am engaged and don't call myself an independent for that reason. I don't know anyone at my school who does out of about seven people.

In other words, I am asking if independents are more centrist than people identifying directly with a party. Gallup polling says that Independents are significantly more likely to say they are moderates.

I feel that they tend to be less ideological and in turn engaged because of the fact that they don't identify with a party.

  • 1
    I am sure you can get some answers based on statistics, but if you e.g. look at Bernie Sanders then he is an example of a strong ideological view that would be impossible within one of the two parties. Aug 27, 2020 at 12:39
  • Look at Ilhan Omar and Kamala Harris. Those are exceptions. They are on the left and may be even more so than Sanders. Sep 2, 2020 at 9:14

3 Answers 3


The short answer is that independents are less engaged and more moderate.

Independents – particularly the 7% of Americans who don’t lean toward a party – are less politically engaged than partisans.

Unaffiliated registered voters are also significantly less likely to vote (2009 data, but still something that holds true) than registered voters with a party affiliation.

Most unaffiliated voters lean towards Democrats or Republicans and have similar views (studies since the Pew Study affirm this conclusion), but the 7% who truly do not lean towards either party do have more moderate views. See also, e.g., this analysis at 538 from 2019.

Other sources to which I don't have an immediate link have noted that independent voters tend to care more about personalities than issues, and to not have coherent political ideologies instead holding views that most partisans would see as inconsistent on particular political questions. I have also seen sources (which I can't locate at the moment) that state that independents tend to be more xenophobic than partisans.

More generally, even voters who have a formal political affiliation tend to be more moderate than elected officials from their own party.

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The last illustration comes with the caveat, however, that the American general public has become much more partisan in the years since 2003-2004 when the data in the chart above was collected as shown in the chart from the Pew center below.

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The data from the CCES 2018 seems to validate your hypothesis - when we look at the party identification of respondents, weighted to be representative of registered voters, and compare the responses of the general population with those reporting strong ideological views - defined as responding 'Very Liberal' or 'Very Conservative' when asked to place themselves ideologically - we see a clear distinction. Those with strong ideological views are far less likely to identify as independents.

Interestingly, these respondents were also more likely to identify as a third-party supporter, and were less likely to respond 'Not Sure'.

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Approaching the question from the other way around - whether or not independents are more likely to be centrist, we can plot a similar graph. As expected, independent voters are far more likely to identify as 'Middle of the Road', and are less likely to identify with positions at both edges of the scale.

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This is an illusory effect that is a result of a system that has effectively disenfranchised many of us independents. We have as strong political views as our fellow partisan citizenry. But it appears we don't because our own strongly held political beliefs often do not fit into either of the two major entranched political party structures or platforms. Opinion polls are naturally biased towards the politics of those entities and thus when (if) independents are polled with such questions, and our responses aren't firmly attached to either of the partisan political stances of the day, we're labeled as 'less ideological'. This glazes over political ideologies that we may hold as dearly as any partisan citizen holds, when they are informed about what their party positions are going to be for that election cycle.

There is also the illusion that we are 'less engaged'. But every state in the union has built-in legal facilities for the two major parties to have automatic access to the political infrastructure. Anybody outside of those partisan identities has to go through exceptional beauracracy and expense to even get on a ballot or be otherwise recognized. As a result, we rarely have any candidates that in any way represent our views. The idea that we should 'just hold our noses and pull the lever' is not only insulting to our intelligence, it's repulsive to, and completely disregards, that politics which is most important to us, whatever those views may be. So many of us don't participate in the elections (or the build-ups to them) either by choice, or by the fact that we have no representation in the elections in the first place and thus cannot participate even if we did want to.

So there is the appearance that we are less 'ideological' and 'less engaged'. But this is merely an artifact of an extreme bias in the current political system towards the two major extant parties and their politics.

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