The Democratic Presidential Candidates And The Independent Vote

According to a Gallup Poll, 43% of voters are registered as political independents, compared to 26% registered as Republicans and 30% registered as Democrats: a record high. This may seem like a strong possible win for the Democrats, who catch many political independents especially in swing states.

However, that same poll shows that just 15% of those independents lean Democrat, while 16% lean Republican. A mere 12% declare themselves wholly independent. To catch the independent vote, the Democratic presidential candidates will have to either win Obama’s youth, or appeal to the independents leaning towards either party.

The Democratic Presidential Candidates Who Left The Game

Did the Democratic presidential candidates who dropped out have what it takes?


Jim Webb, former Secretary of the Navy and former U.S. Senator from Virginia, declared that he would drop out of the presidential race on October 20, at least as one of the potential Democratic presidential candidates. He is still considering a run as an independent candidate. Webb’s advantage is his appeal to both the Republican and Democrat parties, since he served as Secretary of the Navy as a Republican, but as U.S. Senator from Virginia as a Democrat. His inadequate campaigning strategies did not help his cause.

Lincoln Chafee, former U.S. Senator from Rhode Island and former Governor of Rhode Island, declared his withdrawal just 3 days later, on October 23. Interestingly enough, like Jim Webb, Chafee began as a Republican, running as U.S. Senator from Rhode Island with the Republican Party. He ran and won as Governor of Rhode Island as an independent, and then shifted to the Democratic Party. Chafee was never a real heavyweight in this competition, although his 7-year occupation as a horse farrier is an interesting bit of trivia.

The last to leave the Democratic presidential candidates was Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law Professor. Lessig gained some attention and interest because his preliminary campaign was extremely unusual. After the reform of campaign funding, through the passage of what he called the Citizen Equality Act, he would resign and leave the rest of his term to his vice president. Like both Webb and Chafee, Lessig was strongly Republican in his youth. However, his stint in Cambridge changed him into a liberal, making it inevitable that he would run for president as a Democrat.

Was the independent vote lost when these candidates left the Democratic ticket? It does not seem very likely.

The Democratic Presidential Candidates Still In The Game

As of the moment, the Democrats have a strengthened voter position by having an extremely narrowed-down range of candidates. There are still 15 candidates on the Republican list, while the Democratic presidential candidates are only one-fifth that number.


Of the remaining 3 candidates, Bernie Sanders is the most likely to catch the independent vote. He was independent himself, and not just that: he is currently the longest-serving independent Congressman. He only registered as a Democrat for the 2016 election, and that simply to give himself a greater advantage for winning.

Both Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, the two other Democratic presidential candidates, have less of a chance for the simple reason that both may be “too” Democratic. Of these two, Martin O’Malley’s openly Catholic faith gives him more of a possible appeal to the tending-Republican independents, although his policies are determinedly Democratic.


Hillary Clinton is rather different. Her stance is full-blown Democratic, advocating women’s rights and courting the youth. She is attempting, it seems, to win the same voter reach as Obama did. That this strategy will give her an advantage with the Democrats and leaning-Democrat independents is clear enough. However, the Republican-leaning independents will be a much harder sell.

The Democratic Presidential Candidates And The Independent Vote

All in all, it actually seems as though the Democratic presidential candidates who left are giving at least Bernie Sanders a shot at catching the independent vote. The Democratic-leaning independents have an option for convergence that they did not before the list narrowed down. At the moment, it seems as if the Democrats will catch a good part of the independent vote.

About the author

Esther has a B.A. in Humanities and an M.A. in Political Economy. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing Sequence with her family, training in Aikido, and curling up with coffee and a good book.