America the Invisible

America the Invisible: Anybody Out There?

What the Transpartisan Movement Means for Millions of Americans

Rebecca Nunziato February 2015

As far as the electorate goes, 2014 was a rough year ““ headlines left and right frantically shouting that it was the lowest turnout since WWII (just 36.4% of eligible voters turned out in 2014)[1]. The numbers certainly are grim; they leave us calling out into the void, “anybody out there?”

What is this void? Well, like all things political and social, it is a complex product of variables. Causes range from vulnerability to values; polls blame political ignorance and indifference while some identify as informed independents unwilling to participate.

Yet the shockingly low participation in the 2014 midterm election is only one manifestation of a root issue: the invisibility of “We the People.”

“America the Invisible” as I refer to it here refers to three specific groups in our society that are deeply dissatisfied with our current state of hyperpartisan politics but prove to be a powerful force, not only in numbers (Identified Independents alone at 97,706,463 people) but also in terms of widespread willingness to usher in a new form of collaborative governance. Below I briefly describe the demographics and explain the importance of these three groups: the independents, the disenchanted, disenfranchised Democrats and Republicans and the reluctant millennial generation. Each of these groups is a significant portion of America the Invisible and must be considered in forming the Transpartisan Movement.[2]

Who are the independents?

First it is necessary to address the multiplicity of opinions regarding who the independents really are. Are they “pure” independents, true swing voters? Or are they “closet partisans” still puppets of one of the two parties, just with a new title?

The Wall Street Journal, in a 2012 report, offered this description of independent voters: “6 out of 10 independent voters are aligned with one party.” They title 31% as “disguised republicans,” those who voted for McCain and stated that they planned on voting for Romney. Likewise, 32% are the “disguised democrats” ““ they voted for Obama and planned to again. WSJ’s analysis leaves us with 13% “deliberators” or “true swing voters.”[3]  Along with WSJ, January of 2014 Politico’s Alan Abramowitz claims that the then 46% of Americans self-identifying as independents are largely “closet partisans” who consistently support one party’s candidates” they vote like partisans.”[4] Amy Walter of Cook Political adds the dimension of numerical evidence in her article The Myth of the Independent Voter.[5] A study of 55,400 Americans ((34% Democrat, 25% Republican, and 30% independent), were given a questionnaire created using the official party positions of the Democratic and Republican Party Platforms of 2012. These questionnaires were scored accordingly:

The further an individual deviated from the “official party” position, the higher their score. For example, a Democrat who believed that “by law, abortion should never be permitted” got a score of two. One who said that “the law should permit abortion only in case of rape or incest or when the woman’s life is in danger” got a score of one.  The Democrat who believed a “woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice” was given a score of zero.

The results:

On average, those who identified as an independent who “leaned” toward one party or the other, had lower deviation scores (i.e. were more closely aligned with core positions of the party) than those who were not as strongly identified with the party.

Among Democrats, those who said they were “strong Democrats” had an average score of 7.97. Those who said they were independent with a “lean” to Democrats had an average score of 7.73. But, those who said they were “not very strong” Democrat had a higher average score of 9.46.

The Republican gap looks similar, with “strong Republican” averaging 5.95 and independent, “lean” Republican at 6.63. Meanwhile, those who identified themselves as “not very strong Republican” had an average score of 8.58.

Given these high numbers, Walter concludes that voters are not independent because of a moderate viewpoint but rather because they see their party as too moderate or insufficiently aligned with its core values. So, are the so-called independents even reliable? What does the suspicion of Walter, Abramowitz and WSJ imply? Could the independents be a part of a transpartisan movement?

Before we write off the independents as a myth, Linda Killian of The Daily Beast offers some important counter-arguments.[6] Killian writes, “Over the past several decades, the number of well-informed independents who vote regularly has been steadily rising, even as their dissatisfaction with both parties has increased, resulting in volatile, whipsaw elections.” Pew Research estimates the number of swing voters at about 25% and also found that 39% of Americans “have an equal number of liberal and conservative positions and a mix of ideological views on immigration, gun control and health-care policy.” This means that there might be more to the story. Specifically, Killian cites Russell Dalton’s assessment of independent voters: Dalton found that there is a crucial distinction between engaged “apartisan” independents and the low-information “apoliticial” independents. The Apartisan-independents are more likely to approach each election without a preconceived notion of who they will vote for, they shift decisions based on what is happening in the campaigns and in the country. Yet, the media often mistakenly portrays all independents as apolitical independents: uninformed, unlikely to vote etc. The “apartisan” independents are a part of the Invisible America, they have been under-represented, unheard and they are starting to shrink.

Despite Walter’s study, intending to mythologize the independent voting bloc, maybe the independents, by simply refusing to check D or R should be watched more closely.

Gallup is doing just that, and the outcomes aren’t pretty. Independents”™ Voter Engagement Declines Sharply ““ Independents reporting their certainty to vote in the midterm elections plummeted by 19 percentage points from 2010, while the Democrats and Republicans only fell slightly back to “normal levels” after a small spike. Taking into account the amount of “leaning” independents: those who lean republican lost 25 points, those who lean democrat went down 20 points while the “pure” independents with no lean only declines by 8 points. [7]  As our country becomes increasingly dissatisfied with Congress and the tribal fury of partisan politics the percentage of independent identification has risen, people have started to abandon their party labels for one reason or another, and frankly, regardless of the reason, it is a significant shift. Now, the largest number of independents in Gallup history “roughly 97,706,463 people” is losing political enthusiasm and is much less likely to vote.[8]

Should we shake our heads, dismiss these voters as uninformed or as “closet partisans?” Or might we look at the tragic trend of civic engagement and call out into the void, “we know you’re out there.” These millions of Americans need to find their voices, they need to regain confidence in collaboration and see a way to move forward. This is where the relevance of the Transpartisan Movement meets the power-force of the Independents, the disenfranchised party members and the millennial generation.

The Independents

The Independents fit into the description outlined above. In the Transpartisan Movement independents can lean whichever way they please, they can swing or they can stay. This movement must catalyze the millions of people who have chosen the “I” label by offering a home to those who have mixed ideologies. This will embody difference and disagreement lived out through kindness and collaboration. The movement is not a “third party” it is a way of governance and it will require the growing percentage of independent voters to work together to become visible and powerful.

The Disenchanted

The working definition of Transpartisan, as given by Mark Gerzon of the Mediators Foundation is: “anyone who values inclusive solutions “regardless of the party that advocates them” and who promotes cross-spectrum collaboration based on civility, respect and empathy for the benefit of all.”[9] This opens the door to a large population of party members who are disenchanted and disenfranchised. As seen in the studies cited above, some of these disenchanted Democrats and Republicans are now under the label of Independent. However, we cannot be so limited as to think that the only people who will find hope and meaning in the Transpartisan Movement are those who have abandoned the two-party world.

In a poll measuring confidence in 25 businesses and industry sectors, “Confidence in Congress as an institution is at 7%, the lowest measurement in history and lower than any other institution tested.”[10] Dead last. 59% of Americans have a negative image of the federal government – no wonder we had such low voter participation last November! No wonder so many people have dropped their party allegiance in hopes for something different. Over 134 million Americans are potential allies to the Transpartisan Movement – simply because they have lost hope in the institution of government. Not to mention, 60% of independents chose that label because “both parties care more about special interests than about average Americans.”[11] Many Democrats feel disappointment in the President and many Republicans have felt alienated by The Tea Party and everyone is frustrated by gridlock. This means that the Transpartisan Movement is of utter importance to all sides. All must come to the table, as the Transpartisan definition elaborates: “Regardless of what party transpartisans join (or do not join) they remain committed to improving the relationship between and among the parties, not only to pursuing victor for their own party or special interest.”

To alienate the D’s and R’s would be a misuse of the term transpartisan and it would be a repeated mistake. Come to collaborate, come red, come blue, come green and yellow too.

The Millennials

Finally we must highlight the importance of the millennial generation. While millennials (ages 18-33) are included in all of the data and details already outlined it is imperative to specify the trends of millennials” political identification, or lack thereof. Specifically, 22% of millennials call themselves members of the GOP, 33% are democrats and 42% identify as independents.[12] In the midterm-election polls, however, of those actually planning on voting the Republicans were favored 51%, perhaps due to the Millennials” low ratings of the President. 60% of millennials claim they do not follow politics closely and 42% prefer community volunteering over political engagement. The future generation is slipping away at the heart and at the head. Pew Research shows that this age group is the generation of the “none’s” the unattached.[13]

Despite being the best educated generation and holding high optimism for the future the millennials are increasingly turned off by politics. This cynicism comes right along with the deepening partisan divide, and the Transpartisan Movement could be the saving grace for this generation. The Transpartisan Movement can offer millennials something neither party can – a fresh perspective. The Movement affirms the millennial optimism for the future and affirms their negative attachment to a broken system. It invites this generation to take action in ways that make sense to them, through media, through community engagement and productive conversations. Clearly the millennial generation, despite showing partisan leanings or general disinterest, has a stake in the future of America the Invisible.

Inviting the millennials to the table means opening the doors to ethnic diversity, it means applauding their intelligence and it means rekindling civic values that have been covered in mud for too long.

The Transpartisan Movement must begin by calling out to America the Invisible: the independents – regardless of lean, the disenchanted – regardless of loyalties, and the millennials – regardless of unattachment. Anybody out there? Well, yes there are over 100 million people out there ready and waiting for a new way.



[2] There are also deeply important issues of race, age and class in the discussion of nonvoters, learn more here: http://www.people-press.org/2014/10/31/the-party-of-nonvoters

[8] http://www.electproject.org/2014g 227,224,334 is the total electorate this number is 43% of that.

[9] Transpartisan Strategy Doc (5/21/14): Mark Gerzon and Team

[11] Ibid. Killian

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