I'm registered currently as an independent. On social issues I mostly support one side, but I lean towards the other side on many other issues; and ultimately I have no strong allegiance to either party and am frustrated whenever I see views that seem partisan or too extreme to either side, in short I think I truly am an independent at heart, not just on paper.

However I live in Maryland, which has closed primaries for both parties and the state will always vote Democrat for presidential elections; which leaves me feeling that being an independent removes my voice. Even if I choose to support a Republican candidate, I have no chance at all of changing the outcome of my states final vote. If I were registered Republican or Democrat, I could at least vote in the primaries, and in so doing have a say on which candidates are chosen to compete for the presidency, but as an independent I am not allowed to vote in either sides primaries.

So I'm wondering if there is an advantage to staying true to my actual political views and staying an independent, as opposed to picking one side at random to register as so I can have some sort of say in presidential elections via voting in the primaries.

I had thought at one time that independents represented the swing vote either side needed to win, and as the 'king maker' in elections we would thus be the ones that had to be courted and listen to by politicians. In that sense I figured that the mere act of being registered as an independent may affect the vote, because the more of us independents out there the more likely candidates would moderate their platform to recognize the needs of that swing-vote demographic and stick to more centralist policies.

Lately I feel that isn't the case. It seems primaries are won by being the one that your hard-core party types like the best, which is not always the same as being the one that stands the best chance of actually becoming president. Thus the only way to win the primaries is to be the most Democratic or Republican you can be; not to moderate your platform. By the time the politician is running for president officially he already has been selected for a platform that is likely non-centralist. It's too late to change that platform, even if the politician were willing to do so, and thus there is limited options to address the independent's needs, at least without reneging on your platform and promises.

Does anyone have any studies or other sources which may demonstrate any positive effects for registered independent voters (such as encouraging more centralist tendencies), and, if so, does the research show whether this tendency is affected by whether the independent is in a swing state? Are there any other pros to being independent?

I sort of would rather stay independent, both because it's more honest and because I kind of prefer not to have the moral obligation of participating in primaries, since I generally hate all politics and view political debates as an exercise in saying nothing as prettily as possible. I vote out of civic obligation only and am not that offended by not participating; but at the same time if I could better serve my civil obligations by choosing a political party (with a coin flip) I would do so.

All answers are welcome, but I'm the sort of person who spends time on Skeptics, so I love sources and statistics if anyone wishes to include them as well :)

  • 3
    "It seems primaries are won by being the one that your hard-core party types like the best" - you seem to be watching different primaries from me? Aside from Obama (and maaaaybe GWB if you squint hard enough), that wasn't true since Mondale in 1994. R primaries selected Romney, McCain, and Reagan, not Cain, Keyes/Huckabee or Robertson. On D side, we have Clinton (and not Jessie Jackson) and Gore (and not Dean).
    – user4012
    Sep 1, 2015 at 19:11
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    BTW, the concept of super-delegates in D convention was specifically designed to address the concern of electing Mondale-like "party hardcore favorites" in the primaries.
    – user4012
    Sep 1, 2015 at 19:12
  • @user4012 um not sure I understand your first comment. It's a matter of fact that Maryland has voted democratic for presidential elections for as long as I have been alive, I think it's pretty safe to assume that will continue in the near future. The tendency of my state's voting doesn't really have anything to do with my independent views?
    – dsollen
    Sep 1, 2015 at 19:43
  • @user4012 no the state always votes maryland. I could hardly be an independent if I vote for one party always; I thought that context was pretty explicit, the question doesn't really make sense without the presumption that my vote won't effect presidential elections after all.
    – dsollen
    Sep 1, 2015 at 19:59

2 Answers 2


Just as an FYI, I live in Florida and we also have closed elections. I've also been engaged in Democratic party politics and legislative work for the last decade. Maryland is safely a Democratic leaning state, with the last time going to a Republican was in 1988, giving its 10 electoral votes to Bush.

But you should know there are a lot of local elections by which you could have a larger impact. I work in the Presidential battleground state of Florida, we have a lot of state representative, county commission races, etc. Those candidates are the ones that eventually go onto higher office.

Independent voters are outgrowing Democratic and Republican voters 2:1 in the last 2 presidential cycles. Anecdotally, I can tell you that lately, all voters are becoming more and more polarized, and independent-registered voters tend to be less participatory in elections, especially local elections. Possibly due to lack of enthusiasm in the political process.

But voters are moving to care more about issues, rather than parties. While there isn't any data (that I've seen) showing "an advantage" of registering Independents rather than of the two major parties, the way you engage them as a voter is highly correlated with their long-term engagement with the political process.

Again anecdotally, the independent vote in Florida tends to either lean Libertarian, or strongly leftist-progressive. But both tend to have lower voting turnout than the average voter, particularly in Mid-term elections.

As a 14-year registered Democrat and 1-year registered Republican, the only advantage I see as registering as an independent is that you don't get bombarded by phone calls and mailers when it comes time for the Primary. But the best advice I can give is be engaged, know what you care about and vote as often as legal.

  • 7
    somehow the 'vote as often as legal' comment amuses me. Specifically the 'as legal' part. It gives me an image of independents sneaking in to voting booths with a bunch of different silly costumes to vote 10 times an election :)
    – dsollen
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:36
  • 4
    Didn't you know? Massive voter fraud stems from the independents ;)
    – Geobits
    Aug 25, 2015 at 18:42
  • 9
    There's the old Chicago saying, "Vote Early, Vote Often."
    – user6127
    Aug 26, 2015 at 0:43
  • 3
    Sure, sounds easy, but changing costumes 13 times in one day to get my 13 votes in is a lot more difficult than it seems! So be real, most people haven't been to Comicon and don't even HAVE 13 costumes. So get out there, ye Independents, and buy those costumes. And yes, vote early, vote often.
    – user8465
    Jun 14, 2016 at 4:53
  • 6
    "As a 14-year registered Democrat and 1-year registered Republican, the only advantage I see as registering as an independent is that you don't get bombarded by phone calls and mailers when it comes time for the Primary." While that may cut down on contacts from campaigns that are only using government-supplied voter data, larger/more sophisticated campaigns can use other data sources to make educated guesses about your political leanings. Sep 20, 2018 at 22:23

Regarding any advantages of being registered as an Independent, it may depend on the state where you are registered. In North Carolina, for example, a voter registered as an independent can choose which primary they wish to vote in. I've heard that in some states (citation needed), only voters registered to a specific party may vote in the corresponding primary elections.

Other advantages may be longer-term or larger scale. Considering we're generally in a 2-party system, the fewer voters who are registered as one or the other, the more likely candidates will try to appeal to the larger population, rather than just their "base". If, for example, a majority of the voting population are registered to a candidate's party, they'll more likely consider your vote as "in the bag" without working hard to earn it.

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