NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Political Parties Becoming Irrelevant?

September 5, 2000

Going back to the 1960s, voters have increasingly been identifying themselves as independents -- without allegiance to either of the two major political parties. In fact, by some measures, more people now say they are independent than declare themselves either Republicans or Democrats.

  • Those identifying themselves as independents stood at 20 percent in 1940 -- then climbed to 23 percent in 1960, 30 percent in 1980, and 35 percent in telephone surveys this year.
  • A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll in January found 24 percent of voters saying they were "certain to" or "probably" would vote Republican in the presidential election, while 27 said the same of voting Democratic -- but 47 percent said they would "consider the candidates equally without regard for party."
  • At the state level, many party organizations have dwindled to almost nothing, politician operatives say -- and in 24 states, voters do not even register by party.
  • Party mechanisms have been supplanted by the news media and political advertising, direct mail and the Internet.

Voters say they are more focused on personal qualities -- such as integrity and leadership -- rather than on specific issues.

Development of the primary system for picking presidential candidates -- particularly open primaries that invite non-party members to participate in the selection process -- has encouraged candidates to take moderate positions appealing to cross-over voters. Hard-core appeals to party faithful may backfire, political observers say.

Source: Jim Drinkard, "Parties Are Losing People Power," USA Today, August 31, 2000.

 

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