The fluid voter: Exploring independent voting patterns over time

Thom Reilly, Dan Hunting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Independents remain hard to categorize because they are, by their choice of self-identification, resisting the standard categories of political classification. Despite the growth in independent voter identity, many political strategists still view independents as partisans. In this article, we contribute to the academic literature on independent voting behavior by exploring whether those who identify as politically independent function as true independents by accounting for their voting patterns over time. We do this by analyzing data produced by the American National Election Studies (ANES) on political identification and voting choices from 1972 to 2020 on each of the three ANES measures of party affiliation. Our findings show when tracking independent voting behavior over more than one election, there is a significant volatility in voting loyalty and independents as a group are distinct from partisans. This volatility was observed in all three measures of party affiliation used by the ANES survey data. The research also finds evidence that a sizeable number of independents move in and out of independent status from one election to another. Related Articles: Grossmann, Matt. 2014. “The Varied Effects of Policy Cues on Partisan Opinions.” Politics & Policy 42(6): 881–904. Reilly, Thom, and E. C. Hedberg. 2022. “Social Networks of Independents and Partisans: Are Independents a Moderating Forcer?” Politics & Policy 50(2): 225–43. Saeki, Manabu. 2019. “Anatomy of Party Sorting: Partisan Polarization of Voters and Party Switching.” Politics & Policy 47(4): 699–747.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-80
Number of pages22
JournalPolitics and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • ANES
  • elections
  • fluid voter
  • independent voter
  • over time
  • partisanship
  • political behavior
  • political parties
  • United States
  • volatility
  • voter identification
  • voting behavior
  • voting loyalty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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