SADOW: The ‘Independent’ Party In Louisiana? Really?

No, there won’t be a significant political party in Louisiana called the Independent Party beginning in 2015, because of the dynamics involved in why people identify politically as “independents.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate took notice of a change in state law in this year’s legislative session that removed the singular prohibition against a party in Louisiana giving itself that name for official purposes, beginning next year. To become an official party that has a label under which candidates for office may run, documents organizing such a party and a $1,000 filing fee can be submitted if the Secretary of State’s office has at least 1,000 people who registered with the identical label. In the state, at registration to vote if one puts down a label other than Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, or Reform, that is tracked but counted in the “no-party” category for classification purposes. The office reports more than 79,000 no-party registrants as having written in “independent.”

This led to speculation that such a new party could form. Since the 1960s, but particularly accelerating in the past two decades, Louisiana has followed the rest of the nation in the trend for people registering to vote not to choose a party label. Many appear to think that these people who refuse thereby signal overwhelmingly that they mean to desert the two major parties out of dissatisfaction with them and hunger for something else. They also point to the occasional success of candidates, in Louisiana such as state Reps. Dee Richard and Terry Brown, who label themselves as independents as the appeal a party with that could have.

But this ignores the social science evidence that explains otherwise. Political scientists over the decades have identified three distinct groups of nonpartisans who call themselves independent, either in self-identification and/or in a documented fashion such as with registration: those who actually adhere relatively closely to a party’s issue preferences but refuse to conceptualize themselves as a member of that party; those who are relatively indifferent about politics with such disinterest they do not feel confident in giving a label; and those whose level of unidimensional ideological conflict among their issue preferences makes them genuinely unable to commit to any political party as they see all insufficiently expressive of their views.

Of these three groups, only the last could find a party catering to the relatively mixed-up set of issue preferences that they have (again, according to the unidimensional liberal-conservative continuum by which issue preferences typically are explained and by which presumed organized) as a reason to acquire a label. The “leaners” group typically votes for one major party’s candidates over the others, but it members resist identifying with the label for reasons such as psychologically they want to feel they are free thinkers not bound to an outside force, they find a handful of them or even single issue of that party or the behavior of its governing elites as unacceptable, or they don’t believe in the concept of political parties as a useful means by which to aggregate preferences, to put forth candidates, and to govern, perhaps believing them as naturally elitist, corrupt, etc. The “inactives” group typically rarely votes at all, having registered only because they were prodded in a very low cost fashion to do so and having little interest in politics; this group became much more prominent among the three after the “motor voter” changes in the 1990s that pushed easy registration that naturally disproportionately attracted those largely disengaged from the political process.

The “genuine” group has the fewest members of the three, with survey research historically having put their numbers at less than 10 percent of the voting population. That still could provide a decent base from which to build a meaningful minor party, except that the mixture of preferences from both left and right differs across these individuals. There is no “moderate” ideology around which most of these true nonpartisans would rally, making the success of such a party difficult to achieve.

That doesn’t mean that such a party could not get started with sufficient support. But it never would be a significant force in Louisiana politics, which actually is a bit friendlier historically to minor parties given its populist past, especially among states in the south. Candidates who run as an “Independent” rather than with a minor party label or as no-party in the hopes of having those registered as no-party or “independent” flock to them as a result will meet with sore disappointment. In fact, such successful candidates usually are involved in some internecine partisan dispute who use the label to differentiate themselves from another party faction and typically vote with a party; according to their Louisiana Legislature Log voting records, Richard typically votes with Republicans and Brown with Democrats.

Thus, the impact of this change will do little to create a viable “third way” alternative to Democrats and Republicans and is more likely to provoke confusion rather than clarity for voters.



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