About The Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy

Flyer for Independent Voter forum convened by CISD

Download a PDF of the above flyer, here.

CISD has recently released three important studies on nonpartisan governance and the independent voter: 


In the report, Election Administration In America – Partisan by Design, Open Primaries and the CISD reviewed the electoral codes of states with partisan voter registration systems. You might imagine that if you were to read through the electoral code of any particular state, you would find a dry recitation of rules for how elections should be conducted to ensure a fair and impartial outcome. You would be wrong. Rather, the electoral code of every state is rife with rules for how the two major parties -- Republican and Democrat -- prioritize their power at the exclusion of everyone else. Nonpartisan election administration is the norm in most western democracies.  This is not the case in America. The United States is the only democracy in the world that permits partisan contests for election officials. In other democracies, elections are run by independent commissions or governmental agencies shielded from political influence.


While scholars have long recognized that social networks impact political engagement for partisans, comparatively little work has examined the role of networks for independent voters. In the recently published article, Social Networks of Independents and Partisans, CISD contributes to existing research on social networks and politics by surveying Arizona registered voters about their political persuasion, personal networks, and media consumption habits. Our findings show that independents have networks that are structurally different from partisans. Specifically, we found that both Democrat and Republican respondents were more likely to frequently talk about politics with independents than with members of the opposing party. Independents were also less likely than partisans to end a friendship over a political dispute. Taken together, these findings show that independents may be frequent and reliable discussion partners for partisans and may be able moderate political views. We find evidence that the moderating force of independents is especially apparent in the media consumption habits of Republican respondents. Follow the discussion on Twitter:  Altmetric – Social networks of independents and partisans: Are independents a moderating force?


In our recent research in the journal Politics and Policy, The Fluid Voter: Exploring Independent Voting Patterns Over Time, we analyzed American National Election Studies (ANES) data on political identification and voting choices from 1972 to 2020. Our findings show when tracking independent voting behavior over than more than one election, significant volatility in voting loyalty is observed. We also found evidence that a sizeable number of independents move in and out of independent status from one election to another, which we suspect is a function of the political offerings at any given time and the fact that many states disallow or restrict primary voting by independents. Our findings suggest that independent voters who identify in one political classification in one election are less likely to identify themselves in the same manner in the next election. Their identification depends on specific candidates or issues on the ballot and on the political circumstances of any given election cycle. This may well turn out to be a defining feature of being an independent: namely that individual candidates, issues, and the broader social environment -- not party loyalty -- drives their choices.

American voters are increasingly frustrated with our government. In a recent study by the Partnership for Public Service, 56% of those surveyed said they do not trust the federal government and 65% think the government does not listen to the public. The idea of a nonpartisan government that nourishes and sustains democracy and the people it serves has withered. In 1787, when the Framers of the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia to design a new democratic republic, they entirely and purposely omitted political parties from the new nation's founding document. This was no accident. The founders viewed parties as having no legitimate place in the republic. In 1956, the great scholar W.E.B. Du Bois stated that he believed that the two-party system had led to the disappearance of democracy. Today, countless Americans echo his words. A key indicator of this public and private frustration is the millions of voters who are fleeing the Republican and Democratic parties to identify themselves as independents.


As of June 2023, according to Gallup, 44% of American voters identify as independents. In March 2023, that number was as high as 49%. While the numbers may fluctuate from month to month, this trend is undeniable. Growing numbers of voters suspect the parties themselves are largely to blame for extreme polarization and government dysfunction, a situation uncannily predicted by America’s first president. Now, in the 21st Century, is there a viable pathway to nonpartisan governance, to significant structural reform, to re-making the terms of self-governance? And what role can independent voters – who are as diverse as the country itself – play in such a shift?


Gallup polling indicating rise of independent voters over the last 35 years
Graphic source:  https://news.gallup.com/poll/467897/party-preferences-evenly-split-2022-shift-gop.aspx 


At the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy, we strive to:

  • Further study this important, emerging community of voters, conducting new, innovative research;
  • Create a space for diverse, concerned citizens – academics, policymakers, students, activists, civic groups – to dialogue on how best to address the challenges our democracy faces;
  • Serve as a resource on the state of our democracy and examine ways to make a shift to nonpartisan alternatives and governance.
The Independent Voter (book)


In Washington, D.C., on October 19, 2022, at ASU's Barrett and O'Connor Center, the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy was launched, along with the publication of The Independent Voter.  The book was co-authored by Dr. Thom Reilly, Jacqueline Salit, and Dr. Omar H. Ali.

The three co-authors were joined by Cynthia Lietz, Dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, who gave the welcome and introduced a video message from ASU President Michael Crow. Crow said, "There are more independents than ever before. There’s lots of discussion on all three sides of the equation about election reform. There’s a hunger out there for finding ways to get the best candidate... There's a desire for a new way of thinking about things so this new center is focused on that." 

Speakers and panelists at the event included:

  • John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst and author
  • Andrew Yang, presidential candidate and co-founder of the Forward Party  
  • Professor, physician, and community activist, Dr. Jessie Fields 

Link to the video of the event

Use the Research tab for the complete list of cutting-edge research by CISD.

If you’d like to learn more about the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy, please join our mailing list:


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Or you can contact our directors at thom.reilly@asu.edu and jsalit@asu.edu.