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Voters go their own way

As party allegiance fades, 58% of newly registered Iowa voters sign up as independents

Posted July 6, 1998

By Rick Smith
Gazette staff writer

Sixty-three percent of Iowans age 30 or under who registered to vote this year chose not to align with a party, the Iowa Secretary of State's Office reports.

Of 43,786 new registrants of all ages, 58 percent identified themselves as independents.

That compares with 35 percent of Iowa's total 1.738 million registered voters who have registered without party affiliation.

Of all new Iowa registrants, 23.4 percent registered Republican, 18.7 Democratic. Among all registered voters, 33.2 percent are Republicans, 31.8 percent Democrats.

Bruce Nesmith, Coe College associate professor of political science, finds nothing startling or worrisome about the figures on Iowa's newest voters.

For 30 years or more, the national trend has been away from party identification, Nesmith said.

Much has changed, he said, since the 1930s when clear lines defined political parties. Republicans were middle class and upper class; Democrats were working class and from the South.

Today, such clear alignments don't hold. There are all kinds of people in both major parties, Nesmith said.

In reality, the professor said, only about 10 percent to 15 percent of today's voters nationwide truly vote in a random way with little concern for party. In general, two-thirds of voters who call themselves independents tend to vote consistently for one of the two major parties, he said.

He said the major parties continue to give a candidate "a badge of credibility" while providing a good network and technical assistance for campaigning.

"The parties do have relevance and are vital organizations," Nesmith said. "What's different about today from 40 years ago or 50 years ago and certainly different from 100 years ago is that people don't have a kind of tribal identification with the parties."

A hundred years ago people felt as strongly about political parties as today's Iowans might feel about the Iowa State University Cyclones or the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, he said.

"It was almost a religious identification," he said. "And I think that attachment to political parties has somewhat passed into oblivion."


Here's a breakdown of newly registered Iowa voters:
  • Independents 58.0 percent
  • Republicans 23.4 percent
  • Democrats 18.7 percent
Source: Secretary of State's Office

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