More voters moving toward the middle, prof says


"It's miserable trying to figure out what I want to do for the election," Steamboat local Jeff Kramer said.

Like many people, Kramer is stuck right in the middle on most of the political races, not knowing whom he wants to vote for. He is a registered Republican but is an independent voter.

"I'm not really considering the parties in this election. I'll vote on who I think is right," he said.

That attitude is typical with most Americans these days, University of Colorado political science professor Vanessa Baird said.

With the election just around the corner, a new trend of voter consciousness is ever evident in opinions and reflected in how candidates campaign, Baird said.

The trend is that less people are associating themselves with a party designation, even if they stand more on the left or more on the right.

"What we have is a movement toward bipartisanism," Baird said.

One of the reasons for this was the introduction of social issues in politics in the '80s, dividing people from their parties. Some economic liberal Democrats, for example, saw themselves as conservative in social issues, such as abortions, gun control and drugs, while some longtime Republicans experienced the liberal ideals on these issues.

That caused a move to the middle and more people declaring themselves independent.

That movement can be seen in Routt County, where 42 percent of registered voters declare themselves independents.

However, that doesn't mean people are always voting on both sides of the fence, Baird said.

Political scientists break political ideologies down into seven categories: strong, weak or independent Democrat or Republican; or just strictly independent.

She said people such as Kramer, who are registered as Republicans but say they are independent, actually vote for more Republican candidates than a weak Republican and almost as much as a strong Republican.

That holds true for independent voting Democrats, too, Baird said.

Even people who are registered independent tend to vote party lines more, Baird added.

"What I suggest is that it is just not cool to be associated with a party," she said.

And politicians know that, too.

Take a walk around town before the election and look at the political signs in front yards. None has a party affiliation.

Senate hopeful Jack Taylor doesn't have Republican on his signs, but he points out he belongs to the party in his literature.

Taylor keeps it off his political signs because he doesn't want to give the impression of a strict partisan politician.

"It gives me the ability to cross the lines and work with both parties," he said.

He wants to appeal to as many voters as he can, which means dropping the party designation.

Democrat Senate hopeful Paul Ohri, who drops the party designation on his signs, wants people to "Vote the person, not the party."

He said being a Democrat is nothing he's ashamed of. But he doesn't want people to vote on the fact that he's a Democrat.

"It's not something to hide," Ohri said of his party affiliation. "But it's not something to flag, either."

One particular place Ohri doesn't want to advertise his party is Grand County, where most people are Republican, he said.

Libertarian candidate Mike Zuckerman doesn't have any campaign signs to put his party affiliation on. But he makes no attempt to put space between himself and the Libertarian party.

"We call ourselves the party of principle. I personally wouldn't want to distance myself from that principle," he said.

Zuckerman believes main-stream party candidates are dropping their party designation from the public eye because they want to distance themselves from a bad image the ideologies have painted for themselves.

"I think people are fed up with politics in general because Republican and Democratic (candidates) have had their time in office and they haven't lived up to their party's principles," Zuckerman said.

Fed up or not, Baird said there is one thing that people are uninformed. And that's to be expected.

"Why take the time to research when your vote counts so little," she said.

That is one reason why people vote on party lines. They don't have time to understand all the issues, but they agree with the principles of one party, Baird said.


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