Should Political Parties Support Independents?

On a discussion forum, there was an argument about British politics and the strength of the Scottish Nationalist Party, which led to questions of whether something like that could work in America. The United States sometimes has a history of regional parties, although most politicians would not want to openly copy their approach as these tended to be racist Southerners pissed off at Democratic support for Civil rights. These parties did sometimes win electoral votes for presidential races. Stromm Thurmond carried 4 states in the 1948 presidential election, and George Wallace carried 5 in 1968. Their basic strategy was to play kingmaker if neither major party gets a majority.

The political environment is different now, as politics is so nationalized. Although there is still a geographic shift with Democrats becoming the urban party, and I’ve seen an argument that they should support independent candidates in red states.

One solution, prompted by some of the data presented by Rodden in his book, is that would-be conservative and moderate Democrats in red states should shun the Democratic label and run instead as Independents. This both saves them from being automatically cast aside by rural Republican voters and allows them to adopt some more conservative social positions — say, on gun rights, abortion, immigration, or what-have-you — which Democratic Party activists and organizers would ordinarily fight them on. Dividing the party system anew along economic lines could also decrease the salience of social and moral issues which are currently the main wedge between Americans. That would increase the return Democrats would see on their popular economic policy proposals.

This new cohort of economically liberal, pro-working-class Independent candidates could be funded by outside donors, so there are no problems there. And if they restrict their efforts to very red states, and Democrats refuse to run candidates there, then they would avoid the spoiler effect which has doomed third-party candidates in single-winner plurality electoral systems. They could run as write-in candidates, or maybe even fight for ballot access with a unified name across states. Maybe call it the New America Party or something. Perhaps they could get Joe Manchin to sign on — which would have the added bonus of saving him from having to performatively kill major Democratic legislation in order to appear conservative and anti-Democratic enough for West Virginia’s massively pro-Trump voting population to re-elect him.

There’s been a bit of a trial run. Independent Bill Walker was elected Governor of Alaska in 2014 with Democratic support, while Democrats dropped out in favor of independent businessman Greg Orman in the Kansas senate election. He got 42% in a red state in a bad year for Democrats, which is likely an improvement over what a generic Democrat could have gotten.

There could be a similar approach for moderate candidates in blue states and cities, with Republicans not running candidates.

It might all be too clever by half as it’ll be obvious which “independent” candidates are backed by major parties, but it might still result in a difference of a few points, which may be enough to win a few races. They should just make sure not to emphasize that the most successful efforts at this in living memory came from racist Southerners.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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