With the decline in popular attachment to the two major parties in the United States since the mid-1960s, collective political independence has risen. Using new survey questions introduced in 1980, this article employs alternative measures of independence to reassess the phenomenon of independence in America. These new measures give us fresh insights beyond what we had using only the traditional measures. One casualty of this new approach is the portrait of the Independent given by The American Voter. This portrait appears seriously misleading, given that it is those who deny being either partisan or Independent who fit that portrait – not Independents per se. And the most politically involved voters turn out to be Independent Partisan Supporters; not simple partisans.
* Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison. This is a revised and shortened version of a paper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, April 1981. 1 am indebted to the many professional colleagues who participated in the extended round of conferences, committee meetings and personal communications that resulted in the design and operationalization of the 1980 National Election Study – especially those who paid special attention to the study of partisanship and independence. I also thank the 1980 National Election Study Staff for their useful input into question wording as well as their efficient conduct of the study, the National Science Foundation for funding the whole enterprise, and the Research Committee of the Graduate School, University of Wisconsin, Madison, for computer time and other funds necessary for me to analyse the data. I owe a special debt to Diane Kaiser who managed and massaged the data with great skill, speed and accuracy.