The Independent Majority in Massachusetts

The majority of voters in Massachusetts are not registered with either of the major parties, but rather opt to maintain their independence from any party whatsoever.  A full 52% of voters are now either unenrolled with any party or, to a significantly lesser extent, registered with a third party group.  According to statistics released by the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Office, the percentage of voters who refuse to register with either of the major parties has been steadily increasing since at least 1984, having first surpassed the Democrats in 1990.  Since 2000, they have constituted an outright majority.  The percentage of registered Democrats, on the other hand, has significantly declined over the last 25 years.  Democrats accounted for nearly 50% of the state's voters in 1984.  Today, just 36% of voters in Massachusetts are Democrats.  The percentage of registered Republicans has generally held steady, but also declined somewhat in recent years.  Only 11% of voters in the state are Republicans. 

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At the Herald News, columnist Mike Moran calls this a "seismic shift." Excerpt:
A newly published listing, with numbers tracked annually since 1982, reveals changes in the party affiliation of Bay State voters. It shows a seismic shift in attitude and a steadily decreasing number of voters identifying themselves as either Democrats or Republicans. . . . Over the past 29 years, the number of registered voters in Massachusetts has gone from approximately 2.9 million to 4.1 million. The bad news for loyal Democrats and Republicans is that while both parties have seen an increase in the raw numbers over the years, there has also been a significant decrease in both party’s ranks as a percentage of all registered voters.

In other words, more and more of us are choosing to forego membership in the two major parties. As it stands now, the biggest party in Massachusetts is no party at all. Democrats comprise 36 percent of voters; Republicans are at 11 percent; and independent voters hold the majority with 52 percent.
Democratic and Republican party leaders in the state have diametrically opposed explanations for this massive shift.  From the Patriot Ledger:
“There’s disenfranchisement with the entire system, and political parties represent that system,” said Tim Buckley, communications manager for the Massachusetts Republican Party. . . .

John Walsh of Abington, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party . . . suggested some changes could be a result of the state’s election system, which allows unaligned citizens to vote on any party’s ballot in primaries, and the 1993 Motor Voter Act, which lets residents sign up to vote while renewing or applying for a driver’s license.
So voters are disenfranchised, i.e. deprived of the right to vote or other rights of citizenship, but the election system has been opened up to allow independents to vote in any party's primary?  It is noteworthy that though Independents account for an outright majority of the state's voters, there are no independents in the state legislature, which is dominated by Democrats despite their falling numbers in the electorate at large.  In the MA House of Representatives, there are 128 Democrats and 32 Republicans.  In the Senate, there are 36 Democrats and 4 Republicans.  What's the matter with Massachusetts?  


Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Lack of a group for independents to coalesce and organize around... that's what's wrong. Whether you like political parties or not, they are fantastic at helping people get elected.

d.eris said...

Indeed. In Tim Cahill's independent bid for governor last year in MA, he started off strong in the polls but then didn't have a party machine to support fundraising, door knocking etc. Though I think he also made a number of strategic errors and misread the electorate, pivoting far to the right, trying to out-flank the Republican from that side.

There's an interesting organization in the UK devoted to providing a support network for candidates independent of any party. I haven't checked up on them since last year though:

There's nothing really comparable, at least as far as I'm aware, here in the US.

TiradeFaction said...

Political parties are inevitable in any large scale society, the problem isn't political parties (in my opinion), it's the party bosses/machine politics that are the problem. The goal should be to weaken that dynamic, rather than do away with parties altogether (as evident by any legislature that tries to force "non partisanship", they just end up cow tailing or forming their own parties anyway)