Lester Wilson doesn’t think of himself as a Republican or a Democrat. He’s not a card-carrying Libertarian or Green, either.
The one group he does belong to is the 40 percent of Americans who identify as independents — a group now larger than any single political party, according to a recent Gallup survey.
“I like my independent status. I think voting for just one party is a betrayal of my civic duty,” says the 38-year-old maintenance worker from Asheville, N.C.
There’s a lot of talk this election cycle about how important independents will be in deciding the November presidential election and which candidate will win their votes.
But exactly how independent are the self-styled independents?
Wilson, for example, has occasionally voted for Republicans on the local level, but he’s gone for the Democrat in all but one presidential election. The sole exception was 2004, when he says he voted Libertarian. He even went to the polls in his state’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary (and voted for Barack Obama).
He has a lot of company. Research over the years suggests that most independents are what John Petrocik, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, calls “closet partisans.”
“We talk as though these people are strongly susceptible to the short-term influences of campaigning and the economy, and that they are a massive swing bloc in the electorate,” says Petrocik, whose research helped lay the groundwork for the influential 1992 book The Myth of the Independent Voter.
“For the most part, none of those things are true,” he says.
Wilson, who sees his political autonomy as a civic duty, is an example of someone who has taken to heart the belief that, as Petrocik puts it, “a good citizen is independent-minded and makes up his or her own mind.”
“But as soon as you press them, they very quickly admit that they prefer one party or another,” he says.
Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, agrees that being an independent is often an important part of a voter’s personal identity. “People want to think of themselves as independent, that they don’t just vote automatically,” he says.
He also thinks there may be a more pragmatic reason why some voters remain unaffiliated: “They don’t want to get literature; they don’t want to be bothered; they don’t want to get phone calls.”
Truly independent voters do exist, according to Abramowitz and Petrocik, but they account for just 10 percent to 15 percent of the electorate. “And once you take away those people who aren’t going to turn out, you’re down to something like 6 percent or 7 percent,” Abramowitz says.
In other words, the true swing voters are a pretty small group.
They also haven’t been the deciding factor in tight presidential elections that many people might think. In the three most closely contested races of the past 40 years — 1976, 2000 and 2004 — the majority of independents backed the candidate who wound up losing the popular vote. (In 2000, George W. Bush won the independent vote and the White House even though Al Gore won the popular vote by nearly 550,000 votes.)
Myth Of The ‘Myth’?
Abramowitz says exit poll data show independents who say they lean toward a particular party — and most of them lean Democratic — follow through in the voting booth.
In 2008, for example, exit polls showed that about 90 percent of those who said they leaned Democratic ended up voting for Barack Obama, while something like 80 percent of the Republican-leaning independents went for Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
But Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, says you have to look at voters’ behavior over time, not just at exit poll data in a single election, to get a clear picture of how people really vote.
He says independents who say they lean toward a particular party — especially those who favor Democrats — are actually more likely to switch sides from one election to another.
“In any given election, yes, they do vote like people who say, ‘I’m a strong Republican’ or ‘I’m a strong Democrat,’ ” he says. “But if you follow them across time, they are less loyal to that party from election to election.
Eberly says this behavior accounts for the frequent power shifts in Congress.
“The fact that [independents] from one congressional cycle to the next will switch their support adds to the instability in politics right now, where one party cannot hold onto power for much more than one or two election cycles,” he says.
Out on the campaign trail, most political strategists have become true believers when it comes to the myth of the independent voter, Abramowitz says. Energizing the base, he says, is more important than attracting the independents — especially for those Republicans chasing their party’s nomination in August.
“It doesn’t mean you completely ignore those folks,” he says, “but they aren’t as important to the outcome.”
The fourth season of the AMC drama Mad Men ended in a dramatically big way.
Protagonist Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, seemed happy. So happy, in fact, that he surprised his secretary, Megan, with an engagement ring on a Disneyland vacation with his children. The last shot of the episode showed Megan happily asleep in bed with Don, as he remained awake, staring up at the ceiling, before turning his head and staring out the window.
What did it mean?
On Monday’s Fresh Air, series creator Matthew Weiner details his storytelling process. He also talks in depth about the plot and character choices he made last season and in the first episode of Season 5.
“The first episode of each season, in a way, really starts to become the finale of the season before,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “And when you get to the end of the season, you will see it all laid out. But it is not clear to you what is going on. What is clear is that there is a new dynamic, people are in different places. … You’ll see that the language is becoming more modern, that people are breaking a lot of the mores, whether they like it or not. And they’re changing, so when you go into that dynamic, what you’ll see is the setup to a bunch of problems.”
Weiner reveals that one of the problems this season will revolve around Don’s relationship with Megan, played by Jessica Pare.
“What’s wrong with it? All I can say is, ‘You know already. You’ve been told. But it’s not what you think,’ ” he says.
Mad Men has received 15 Emmy awards, including the award for Outstanding Drama Series in each of its first four seasons.Weiner — who is also Mad Men‘s head writer and an executive producer — was previously a writer for The Sopranos.
On the end of Season Four
“I always try not to paint myself into a corner, and when I came in at the beginning of Season Four, I said, ‘Don is going to have these two parallel relationships; we’re going to bring this character in as a tiny part as a receptionist.’ And the actress didn’t even know that she’s going to end up married to Don Draper. And, of course, I had the chance to pull the plug on this thing at any point during the season, because it’s not set in stone, and then when it got there, I thought, ‘This turned out great. This is exactly what I wanted.’ ”
On the character of Don Draper
“Every decision that he makes is filled with ambiguity. You see him at the end of Season Four. The end of every season is, to me, the end of the show. And that shot was a perfect mirror image of the end of the pilot, when you see Don come home, and you see him with his kids and his wife, and you realize that he’s married. And you feel his emotional connection to them, and he looks out the window, and what you’re getting is someone who’s filled with an ambiguous emotion about things being good, maybe. Because in some ways, this man has some deep issues.”
“What I hoped is what I felt, which is when you see somebody falling apart, you can be disgusted or you can actually feel badly for them. Feeling pity for them can be a tough corner to turn, but I don’t think about likability. I think about lovability. And Don, at the bottom there, was the most lovable I’ve ever seen him. He needed love. He is a man who never asks for anything and doesn’t know how to. He’s a man who keeps such distance that the grains of vulnerability that he expresses are the moments for us to put ourselves into his life.”
On power and sex and Megan and Don
“Don’s relationship — and [the] women in his life’s relationship[s] — between power and sex is very closely linked. And I think it’s part of the human experience. I think it’s an animal thing. Powerful men in particular seem to want to be controlled sexually. … I think what you’re seeing is that they do have a vibrant sex life, and she is controlling that part of it, and he likes it. And it’s the way they fight. And it’s kind of her saying to him, ‘You want to be this way? Then you can’t have this,’ and on some level wanting him to realize that he won’t get it. And what I love about it, and what I think is fresh, is that this woman is not judged afterward. It’s very rare for a woman to express that kind of sexual confidence and control and not be the prostitute, and be somebody’s wife and be in a relationship afterward. I’m both sexualizing their relationship and explaining her status in the relationship.”
On his son Marten playing Glen Bishop
“He was cast because he was the best person available for the role. I would have never thought of him if he wasn’t my son. It was actually someone else’s idea, and I was counseled against it from all the complications that could happen from him failing at that job. But he really nailed it, and he’s a really good actor. When I asked if he wanted to do this, he wanted to do this. He’s now 15. At the time, I remember someone saying to him, ‘What’s your favorite part about acting?’ And he said, ‘Eating lunch with my dad.’ Who knows if he even understands the difference between this job and other jobs, but it’s beautiful to have him there, and I work a lot. He is part of the cast, and the reason I had him do it is because he’s good at it. The fact that I identify a lot with Glen was confusing to him.”
“We’ve been talking about this for so long and it’s not working,” Lady Gaga said defiantly on the issue of teen bullying at a live-streamed event at Harvard University on Wednesday.
Suicides by young people who were bullied for being different—it’s a grisly trend that many adults seem at a loss for how to tackle. Recently, four teens in Woodside, Deleware, alone, have taken their own lives (though one is said to have not been bullying-related). A torrent of videos by celebrities including President Obama, have hoped to influence young people’s thinking on the matter. But the tragic trend continues.
The good news is Millennials are more accepting of those in the LGBT community. Fifty-nine percent of Millennials are in favor of gay marriage, compared to 46 percent of Americans overall, according to a recent Pew Research study.
This month the anti-bullying cause is being further championed by an ally who’s adored by young people, and may have the influence to make a bigger impact: pop superstar Lady Gaga.
With Wednesday’s live-streamed event at Harvard to kick it off, Gaga has formed a foundation aimed at empowering young people and to take her anti-bullying message cross-country. Named after her song, the foundation is called “Born This Way.” And yes, Oprah was even there to anoint the launch.
In terms of the physical pieces of the campaign—a basic interactive website with plans to grow has gone live. And a tricked-out, digitally-equipped Born This Way tour bus will travel to each one of the pop star’s tour cities as a civic engagement vehicle to draw out young people.
Gaga is the face of the organization, which is powered by academics, psychologists, “spiritual leader” Deepak Chopra, so called “empowered youth” leaders, and… Gaga’s own mother, to name a few who are working behind the scenes. They are loading up the bus and site with tools and best practices for using social media and storytelling to combat bullying and homophobia.
The idea, says Cynthia Germanotta (Gaga’s mother), is to leverage her daughter’s reach while deploying effective strategies containing best practices condoned by experts.
One area of the campaign that seems to be on the right track is the stories section of the site. The idea is to amplify inspirational stories for and by teens, which may seem simple enough, but may prove more powerful than any celebrity posting a photo with “No H8″ painted on their face, or a PSA-style video preaching at youth.
“Bravery to me means to fight my fears. To say no, and stand up for others when they truly need it. Bravery also means that I should be strong and believe in myself. Respect my youth, my sexuality and community,” writes Robin, a teen from Michigan, who submitted her writing to Gaga’s foundation site.
While the real impact of Gaga’s campaign remains to be seen, the 36,000+ Twitter followers the movement has gained so far appears to be a good start.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Syrian expatriate “Ali Mohamed Al-Issa,” now residing in the U.S., writes about how he and his fellow citizens have been emboldened over the past year to speak more freely about their country’s revolution. He is using a pseudonym to protect his family in Syria—where the struggle for democracy ensues.
When I was growing up in Damascus, Syria, my parents used to stress to us that while the Baath dictatorship offered us little, we had an obligation to give back to the society itself, because it defined us.
I left Syria five years ago to get a better education and training in the U.S. so that one day I could go back home and try to bring about some change to the country.
When I first got to the U.S., I was surprised to learn that many Syrians here, though they shared my passion for the country, didn’t understand my desire to return. They argued, “The system is what will end up changing you, rather than you changing the system.”
I saved the advice I heard and continued my journey inside the U.S., feeling no need to rush. After all, my country has been in a status quo for decades. The system was so corrupt, and the regime seemed so unbreakable, that it seemed unlikely that any change could happen before I finished my years in the States.
The story started to change when I went back home for the holidays in 2011. I was in Damascus when the Tunisian revolution erupted, and succeeded in a matter of few weeks. My parents and I talked about the possibility of a domino effect of the Tunisian revolution, and we assumed Egypt would be next, but expected Syria to be the last piece in the game.
Had I known Syria was only three months away from becoming a falling piece, I would have definitely stayed. The two months that followed my return from Syria changed everything. These were probably the best days of my life. The domino effect happened faster than anyone had predicted. As Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain were all launching their revolutions, and some already ending them too, I passively wondered, “Why does Syria have to be the last?”
Then on March 15th, 2011, the Syrian revolution started. The first protest was in the southern city of Daraa. Three days later was the day the Syrian revolution was scheduled to go large scale—the “Friday of Rage.” Three o’clock in the morning Pacific Time was the zero hour. Many of my friends and I awoke by that time, turned on Al-Jazeera and waited. By 3:30 a.m. the first video was uploaded to YouTube, and with that video everything changed.
It is hard to express the mixture of feelings we had while we watched. The part that can be explained, though, is the sadness we felt for not being there. It was also hard to imagine how it felt being in a protest in the heart of Damascus. No one could answer that question, as no one dared to talk about it on the phone or online. The barrier of fear was starting to break, but it would take months before it broke on a large scale.
Whenever I opened the topic with my mom on the phone, she would pretend my voice was breaking up. My friends would avoid my Facebook comments and posts. It was too soon to get beyond the idea that Big Brother was still watching us.
Conversations Emerge From Hiding
On my Facebook news feed for the first few weeks of the revolution, it did not feel like there was a revolution going on in Syria. Facebook status updates might sound like a minor issue for someone who hasn’t experienced living in Syria. The fact of the matter, however, is that Facebook updates tell a major part of the story. These updates were a projection of the Syrian society and the change that was happening on the ground. For me, the revolution was fated to be successful when it succeeded in its first few weeks in breaking the barrier of fear and the thought that Big Brother is watching, as reflected in the process of changing the nature of Facebook statuses throughout this period.
This was even a concern for those of us outside the country who harbored thoughts of returning one day. The first status I ever wrote on the issue was not until ten days after the revolution started. On March 25th, 2011, I wrote, talking about freedom, “I can already smell it… and it smells sweet.” I was thousands of miles away from Syria, and I still felt scared after updating this vague status.
A few months later, I was explicitly writing stuff like “Bashar Assad, you are a criminal of war, we will hang you soon.” The relationship between Facebook statuses and the revolution is no different for people on the inside. My friends who regularly protest in Damascus went from writing stuff like “I’m leaving my house…” to imply they are going on a protest, to now explicitly announcing the time and location of the protest they are going to.
Communication between Syrians has also been an indication of the changing social dynamics as a result of the revolution. After March 15th, I lost some very good friends who de-friended me because of my political stance, and I got in touch again with activist friends who I hadn’t talked to in years.
Communication also went through the gradual process of breaking the barrier of fear. When I first started communicating with my family and friends in Syria, we had to come up with a safe communication system to avoid any risk. It started with coded conversations, like, “By the way, as it turns out, I have some friends who were really nice today.” That was how I implied to my mom that some of my friends were going to a particular protest. She didn’t miss a beat, and replied in code, “I know you have some nice friends. But I also know that your friends hang out in downtown San Francisco. And downtown San Francisco is really dangerous. Don’t ever think about going with them, because you know what happens in downtown San Francisco.”
As my friends in Syria grew more bold, we moved into a less cautious communication system. We would talk explicitly about the revolution online, but by translating our conversation into a random language through Google translator. Everyone was trying to figure out a way to get away from the government’s internet service provider. Today, as in the case with our Facebook statuses, I explicitly discuss the revolution with my friends in Syria on the phone and on chat without any coding or fear.
Today, when I logon to my Facebook, it is like life in Syria has stopped except for the revolution. The discussions I read are no longer about soccer, cars, new cafes, or a favorite actress, but rather about freedom, a civil democratic nation, new constitution, civil rights, and minority rights.
Though the Syrian revolution is nowhere near the end yet, it has already succeeded in achieving one of its major goals: awakening Syrian society and reactivating the role of youth as part of the nation. Citizens are no longer scared to speak out and discuss. This successful social change guaranteed that the revolution will be successful, not only to topple the regime but rather to build a new nation.
In 11 months, the Syrian revolution, through its civil movement, raised an army of civil open-minded activist ready to build a new democratic nation. All the people who initially criticized my idea of going back to Syria are now waiting themselves for the day the revolution is successful and are all ready to go back and participate in shaping the future of our country. The revolution has revolutionized the people, and we owe it to the estimated tens of thousands of martyrs, missing, and detainees.
A recent photo of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Photo Credit: Medill DC
Just a few days ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Tunis, Tunisia, meeting her counterparts from dozens of countries and issuing an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar Assad to silence his guns and allow in humanitarian aid.
Syrian tanks continue to batter homes, and no aid is getting in. So what are allies of the Syrian people to do?
“We have to continue to consult with those who truly are friends of the Syrian people,” Clinton said, “which of course includes the United States and the many governments and organizations that gathered in Tunis on Friday. We are doing everything we can to facilitate humanitarian aid.”
She added that the United States and others must continue to “ratchet up the pressure” because Syria “is an increasingly isolated regime.”
And, she said, nations must “push for a democratic transition by working with and trying to build up the opposition so they can be an alternative.”
Syria is “one of the most highly militarized, best defended countries on Earth,” Clinton said, “because of course they spent an enormous amount of money with their Iranian and Russian friends so equipping themselves.
“Even if you were to somehow smuggle in automatic weapons of some kind, you’re not going to be very successful against tanks. So the dilemma is how do we try to help people defend themselves … ?”
A New York federal court today dismissed a lawsuit against agribusiness giant Monsanto brought by thousands of certified organic farmers that they hoped would protect them against infringing on the company’s crop patents in the future.
The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and several other growers and organizations do not use Monsanto seeds. But they had hoped that the judge would agree that Monsanto should not be allowed to sue them if pollen from the company’s patented crops happened to drift into their fields.
Instead, the judge found that plaintiffs’ allegations were “unsubstantiated … given that not one single plaintiff claims to have been so threatened.” The ruling also found that the plaintiffs had “overstate[d] the magnitude of [Monsanto's] patent enforcement.” Monsanto brings an average 13 patent-enforcement lawsuits per year, which, the judge said, “is hardly significant when compared to the number of farms in the United States, approximately two million.”
The company, meanwhile, asserts that it doesn’t exercise its patent rights when trace amounts of its patented traits inadvertently end up in farmers’ fields.
Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation and lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, told The Salt that Monsanto remains a “patent bully” and that the judge’s decision was “gravely disappointing.” The plaintiffs have not yet decided if they will appeal.
Much of the corn, soy, canola and cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Among them, corn is the most likely to cross-pollinate with plants in nearby fields. That means that genes from genetically modified crops can drift or “trespass” into organic fields.
As Dan Charles reported last year, most organic corn in the U.S. typically contains anywhere from half a percent to 2 percent GMOs, according to companies that sell such corn to organic dairies or poultry farmers. It has been that way since genetically engineered corn and soybeans came into wide use more than a decade ago.
But organic farmers say that GMO contamination could hurt the value of their crop, and they fear lawsuits from Monsanto for possessing their GM genes without paying for them. The documentary Food Inc. portrayed the company as aggressively suing farmers who save its patented seed.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology in the 21st Century began discussing ways to protect organic farmers from contamination.
“Beyond whatever happens with this suit, there are some very legitimate issues behind it,” Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, tells The Salt. “There is already a significant burden to organic food production, and there is more coming. It raises the question: Is it possible for organic agriculture to survive in the face of GM crops?”
Monsanto sees it differently, however. In a statement on the judge’s decision, executive vice president David F. Snively said, “This decision is a win for all farmers as it underscores that agricultural practices such as ag biotechnology, organic and conventional systems do and will continue to effectively coexist in the agricultural marketplace.”
An attack video on Republican candidate frontrunner Mitt Romney has been making the rounds (the short version embeded above). And the “super PAC” supporting rival presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has come under fire for creating it.
The 28-minute video depicts Romney as a greed-driven “corporate raider” making money at the expense of American workers. Romney and other members of the GOP have fired back, calling it an attack campaign better suited to have originated from the Democrats. But from Newt? A fellow Republican?
Given the amount of press this piece is getting, coupled with the fact that Romney may ultimately win the Republican nomination, Gingrich’s campaign could ultimately work against the GOP ticket altogether.
I wonder if the President is thanking Newt right now…
Turnout among voters aged 18-to-29 more than doubled during the state’s 2008 primaries, when President Obama ran for office, CIRCLE research reflects. As the polls are open today in New Hampshire, are we seeing that level of activity this time around? No, says New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Josh Rogers.
I emailed Josh today, inquiring about the possible effects of the youth vote on today’s New Hampshire primary. Here is the result of our conversation:
TURNSTYLE:Young voters in New Hampshire have among the highest turnout rates in the country — on par with older voters. Why is that?
JOSH ROGERS: One thing that facilitates participation by all primary voters are New Hampshire’s election laws. Voters here can register at the polls, and registered independent voters — in New Hampshire we call them undeclared — can vote in either party’s primary. Voters are also not required to show ID.
TS:Youth voter turnout for the New Hampshire Primary more than doubled in 2008 (according to CIRCLE). Anecdotally, are you seeing anything notable today among young voters at New Hampshire polling stations?
JR: While Texas Congressman Ron Paul has the most conspicuous support from many younger voters, I don’t think anyone expects participation by the young to reach the heights of four years ago, when the Obama/Clinton primary brought many young people to the polls, particularly in New Hampshire’s college towns.
TS:How disruptive has the Occupy Movement been at this primary? Any surprises?
JR: The Occupy folks have been around. But apart from a few interruptions at candidate events — chanting, the occasional trombone interlude — and an encampment in a Manchester park, the Occupy Movement hasn’t been particularly high-profile here.
TS:What issues do young Republican voters in New Hampshire seem to care the most about? Are most young voters today actually Republican? (From CIRCLE: Nearly 40% of Young Republican Primary Voters Identified as “Independent” in 2008. … There were roughly 51,000 youth who participated in the Democratic primary in 2008 and 33,000 youth who participated in the Republican primary.)
JR: There are surely many young voters who are drawn to the Republican party but I don’t think, nor do Republican leaders here, that most young voters in New Hampshire are Republicans.
As far as issues go, most young republicans I’ve been talking to say fiscal matters are their top concerns: the national debt, the federal budget, federal spending. Fewer of them support the social issues that are important to many conservatives: opposition to same-sex marriage, for instance.
TS:Is there a decipherable sentiment or trend you are witnessing at the polls today?
JR: Turnout was expected to be fairly high, but I personally saw nothing that leaves me convinced it necessarily will be high. Mitt Romney is surely expected to win. If he doesn’t it would be a big loss. But the race for second does seems to be between Ron Paul and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who have both reached out to young people. So youth voters could be pivotal in that respect.
There is a surplus of media coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement whether from journalists, participants and even satirists like Jon Stewart. Here is a distillation of some notable videos, some of which are flying under the radar of viral distinction.
The above video is simply a beautifully shot vignette of Occupy Wall Street protesting, taken during last night’s swell of supporters in New York by Joshua Paul Johnson.
In this video below, one journalist appears to get roughed up by baton-carrying police trying to keep protesters behind a partition. Warning: expletives at :55 in.
This video offers more context to the above video, showing an NYPD officer swinging and hitting OWS protesters.
This reporter asks why African Americans and Latinos are not numerous at OWS. (It is worth noting, I noticed a high ratio of Latinos at Occupy L.A. and a fair amount of African Americans–Occupy L.A. is a generally diverse group, I observed.)
Fast forward to 1:09 in to this news package to see one young boy’s view of why he is participating.
Not only to end this post on a funny note, but here Jon Stewart really seems to nail the foibles of media coverage and OWS supporters themselves.
While a few thousand marchers are estimated to be walking the streets of New York today, the numbers representing Los Angeles’ Occupy movement aren’t yet as impressive: The Southern California group has been about 200-to-300 people strong, camped out in front of City Hall since this Saturday.
Occupy L.A. is mobilized and networking with local unions, much like the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. But what’s different about this West Coast incarnation of OWS is there have been no arrests, as an LAPD representative has confirmed with Turnstyle News.
I met with many of L.A.’s OWS supporters, who described the city’s police as being laid back. “The police realize that they’re part of this percentile,” says Chase Watkins, referring to the so called 99 percent of people in the U.S. who are financially struggling (or who are, at least, not extremely wealthy).
The following photo essay highlights some of their perspectives and motivations for joining the occupation and offers a snapshot of the goings on at this one-block-length of lawn in downtown Los Angeles.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and promise you that this will be the first of two posts on Present Shock, the Douglas Rushkoff book that has been getting a mountain of attention in the tech press since it was released earlier this month.