The last thing in the world college students want to talk about is their political opinions. We are far more open about our classes, grades, love lives and future careers than we are about where we stand on the political spectrum. The second I brought up voting and politics in a recent conversation, almost everyone shied away.
There were, however, a few brave souls who spoke out on their political beliefs. Chris Hitzel is a sophomore applied math major who is making a decision many people his age are. He identifies as a political independent, like 50 percent of the millennial population in the United States, according to a recent Pew Research Poll. Gallup announced 42 percent of Americans identify as independents and the number of independents has been increasing steadily since 2008.
Identifying as a political independent has become a way for people to completely avoid voicing their opinions. An “independent” is not obligated to do or say anything when a political discussion between friends becomes an all out debate.
Hitzel said he registered as an independent in an effort to keep himself from getting too invested in one side. He said it forces him to be intellectually honest with himself while weighing arguments.
“Being young is about being hip, and maybe being hip is being outside of corrupt politics,” Hitzel said, regarding his generation.
He described identifying as an independent as “almost a sense of laziness,” and “taking a stand without taking a stand.”
An “independent” can play both sides of the fence, or flip flop when it is convenient. They can side with one party when they win, but dislike that same party when they lose. Are these independents really independent, or are they sitting out because they are afraid to join in?
Professor Yanna Krupnikov, an assistant professor in the political science department at Stony Brook University, and fellow researcher, Samara Klar, wanted to know whether this influx of so called “independents” was an ideological shift of a large group or the result of many false representations. Krupnikov said that the research found that when people are reminded there is disagreement among the parties, they want to be above it.
One reason this is occurring is because it is more socially acceptable to not align yourself with a party. Being politically correct is something that our generation values. Perhaps it is more polite not to argue your side.
American citizens associate the parties with polarized political figures whom they do not want to be associated with. The polarization of the parties is either making individuals join the fight or remove themselves from it entirely.
People are identifying themselves incorrectly to control the way that others perceive them. Identifying with a party makes others assume things about you—stereotypes flood our mind when we hear that someone is a Democrat or a Republican. Nobody wants to be perceived as close minded or stubborn because they lean right, or hippie-like and open to all social change because they lean left. Expressing what you believe in is putting yourself out there to be judged.
By not participating, those who identify as independents are stepping back from discourse that occurs between family members and peers. Hiding one’s true feelings on an issue allows them to remove themselves from uncomfortable situations and disagreements.
People may not choose a party for fear of how they will look if they change sides or if they do not hold all the ideas of a party. Not many people agree with everything the party represents because they are so polarized.
Both political parties being difficult to fit into because the extreme partisan views the parties represent is a huge turn off to undecided or independent voters.
Jonathan Sides, a contributing writer to The Monkey Cage on the Washington Post Blog, says there is very little difference between independent leaners and weak partisans. Data he compiled from the American National Election Study shows approximately 75 percent of independent leaners are loyal partisans.
In other words, people choose to identify themselves as independents although their policy preferences usually lean one way or another. Do not let your manners get in the way of your participation in our society. We should be proud to stand up for our beliefs.