A demographic shift toward millennials, Gen Z and other young voters could signal a long-term change in party dynamics. (Image: Letty Avila via DALL-E.)

As 2024 elections approach, experts discuss the rising tide of independent voters sweeping the nation

Political scholars and pundits explore why nearly half of Americans now choose not to identify with a political party during a Dornsife Dialogue co-hosted by the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future.
ByUSC Dornsife News Staff

In a recent Dornsife Dialogue, experts tackled a pressing question in American politics: Why are more voters identifying as independents? The panel, including prominent political analysts and strategists, explored the reasons behind this trend and its potential impact on future elections, especially as the 2024 presidential race approaches.

Find a transcript of this audio here under the transcript tab.

Why it matters:
The surge in independent voters marks a pivotal shift in American politics. Nearly half of Americans now identify as unaffiliated with any political party. It’s a big move, away from traditional allegiances, that is reshaping the political landscape.

By the numbers: Two decades ago, less than a third of Americans identified as independents. Today, it’s 49%, according to a recent Gallup poll.

What they’re saying: With Robert Shrum, director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, serving as co-moderator, panelists discussed reasons for this rising trend.

  • “Neither party has presented a platform that resonates with many Americans, leading to more declaring independence,” said Arnon Mishkin, director of the Fox News Decision Desk and a fellow at the center.
  • “Voters are disillusioned with major party candidates, prompting a shift to independent identification,” said Lisa D.T. Rice, political strategist and author. “We are dissatisfied with the way our elections are run, we are dissatisfied with the candidates that are being offered. … I think the trend will continue to go up.”

Yes, but … “While there are more and more people identifying as independents, typically 80 or 85 percent of those people actually identify with one of the two parties and will typically support a specific party and specific kinds of candidates again and again,” said Sara Sadhwani, assistant professor of politics at Pomona College and a USC Dornsife alumnus.

  • “Independents are somewhat misnamed,” added Mike Murphy, co-director of the Center for the Political Future and event co-moderator. “They’re really Republicans and Democrats who don’t admit their Republicans or Democrats out of embarrassment or that social value of saying ‘I’m too smart to fall into a trap.’”

The intrigue: The dialogue highlighted the role of young voters, particularly millennials and Gen Z, who prioritize issues over party loyalty. This demographic shift could signal a long-term change in party dynamics.

The big picture: With the 2024 presidential election on the horizon, the rise of independent voters could significantly impact campaign strategies and outcomes, especially in swing states.

Bottom line: The growing independent voter base reflects a broader sentiment of political disillusionment and a desire for new voices and choices in American politics.

Watch and listen: You can see the full, 60-minute discussion on YouTube or listen to the recording on the Dornsife Dialogues podcast.

And catch up on the full lineup of Dornsife Dialogues wherever you get your podcasts.