As the two parties grew more polarized, power shifted from the center to the margins, and special interests increased their influence. In reaction, the ranks of independent voters grew from 20 percent of the electorate at the start of the 1960s to 30 percent after Watergate.
Independents listed the economy as their No. 1 issue back in 2007, when Democrats said health care and Republicans said terrorism. Moderates and the middle class -- the people who determine who wins elections -- felt squeezed even before the fiscal crisis, with rising health care and energy costs absorbing whatever benefit they might have received from tax cuts.
After watching the jet set excess of the Bernie Madoff class from afar, they were left with less and still asked to clean up the mess. Now, as they try to balance their own budgets at home, they see big government and big business --Washington and Wall Street -- piling up huge debts and passing the buck to the taxpayer.
Independents' anger today is focused on familiar targets: hypocritical politicians, over-spending and a lack of agreement on solutions from Washington. Independents feel they are paying more and getting less. They believe the system has been rigged to benefit special interests at the expense of the national interest. As bitter partisanship increases government's dysfunction, more voters are declaring their independence from politics as usual.
The quickest policy cure would be to change the rigged system of redistricting that creates congressional 'safe seats' and replaces competitive general elections with closed primaries, where party activists reign supreme. Nonpartisan redistricting and open primaries would reward politicians who reach across the aisle, and would empower independent voters.
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