In this primary season, the grass-roots group Americans Elect attempted to make a way for a nonpartisan presidential candidate. It failed miserably. No candidate earned enough support to cross the threshold to nomination.
What are the options for independent candidates, if not a third party? Our system is stacked against them, too. Ballot-access requirements, major fundraising networks, and winner-take-all elections offer significant advantages to candidates with party backing. Primaries in most states exclude independent voters or force them to choose sides.
Independent and third-party candidates made it onto the ballot in only 18 percent of state contests between 2000 and 2009, winning about 2 percent of the races they entered.
Independents are most likely to succeed when they are tied to a party (like Sen. Joe Lieberman, the career-Democrat who won reelection as an independent after losing a primary) or are in idiosyncratic political places like Maine and Vermont. Independent US Senate candidate Angus King is capturing media attention and may very well win his senatorial bid in Maine; but his candidacy is an outlier, not the bellwether.
Both parties need independent voters to win. But have the parties forgotten this?
Campaign strategists have a simple recipe for success. They divide voters into three camps: ours, theirs, and up-for-grabs. Winning campaigns pay just enough attention to their committed voters to keep them happy and get them out to vote; they avoid voters who are solidly in the opponent's camp, and they focus most of their efforts on those most likely to be persuaded – like political independents.