CHS students increasingly identifying themselves as politically Independent



When senior Johnny Lawless, who identifies as politically Independent, turned 18 on Oct. 21, he registered to vote. However, Lawless truly became politically involved his junior year once he became aware of impending adulthood and wished to be more involved with life around him. While he does have an in-depth understanding of his standing on a multitude of issues, he does not identify as a member of any major political party. According to Pew Research Center, he is a part of a trend amongst the millennials, a generation ranging from 18- to 33-year-olds that is already known to deviate from the norm, as he expresses a perception of singularity in the political arena.

According to the Pew Research study published in March 2014, half of all millennials regard themselves as partisans free from the outlines of the Democratic or Republican parties. Another extension of this study also notes this generation features the highest number of Independents in comparison to older generations. The increasing popularity of the Independent political ideology also manifests itself in the halls of CHS with students like Lawless, who originally expressed more traditional political views.

“When I was growing up, I was pretty conservative, but I’m pretty middle-of-the-road right now,” Lawless said. “There’s some policies on the left I do identify with, like pro-choice and freedom of choice for abortion and whatnot. I’m not religious very much, so I tend to lean more intellectually to the left. I’m fiscally conservative…but more socially liberal than conservatives would be. So really I would say I’m an Independent.”

Junior Kelly Harris also associates with an Independent political status but accepts her stance as the same one her parents hold. She said while her parents also describe themselves as Independents, her family does not discuss politics. Coming two her own conclusion concerning her political identity, she said her parents did not try to influence her judgment as they have contrasting ideas even under the same label.

“I see a lot of kids who follow what they were told and exposed to…because they just don’t know another way of thinking or of change. Regardless if they agree with me personally, I think kids should think for themselves and have their own opinions,” Harris said. “I found myself agreeing with certain parts of both parties and then also not agreeing with both. And then I had people asking me where I fell…I figured I should put a label on it. And so here I am.”

With the increase in Independent voters over time, Lawless attributes the growth to the lack of satisfaction with the current affair of politics in Washington D.C. However, both he and Harris acknowledge that two parties are vital to the government’s operations.

Lawless said, “American politics still needs the two parties. I mean it wouldn’t work with hyperpluralism. It’s not going to change any time soon, but we can at least try to move the process along a little faster.”

AP Government teacher James Ziegler also concurred with Lawless and Harris and said he noticed this growth in Independent voters.

“First of all, there’s division with the two main parties. Voters want someone who represents their perspectives, so they having to pick a single party can prove to be difficult. The parties have their established principles, while those of the voters change. The parties do represent the public, but more voters don’t want to just associate with a single group,” Ziegler said. “It just comes to whoever they see as more fitting. Secondly, I really do think that people are moving away from just taking on the political votes of their parents. In an area like Carmel or even Indiana, where we might see more Republican voters traditionally, there has been a change with more people voting differently than their parents.”

Despite what Lawless said, however, Indiana’s Republican House of Representatives candidate still garnered the majority of the votes. According to, the Republicans, with the recent election that took place on November 4, now control both the House and the Senate. In Indiana Republicans control 7 of the 9 congressional seats. The other two seats are controlled by Democrats with no third-party incumbents. According to the Associated Press, this trend was not as evident in the recent election as the House now features 244 Republicans, 180 Democrats, but no Independents.

Chard Reid, IB business teacher and Libertarian candidate for the 2012 district elections, also said the main Democratic and Republican parties have their faults. He reasons these self-contradictions within the parties cause some individuals to pursue other political principles.

“I don’t think either party is consistent with their view of the size of the scope of government. Republicans claim to be small government, but they’re only small government in terms of economic policy. They’re very large government in how they want to regulate people’s lives. Democrats on the other hand, are very much big government when it comes to economic policies, and I’m small government for both,” Reid said. “A lot of times people think that Democrats and Republicans are just like two different parties; I would say they’re two sides to the same coin. They’re both big government. Libertarianism is all about small government and maximum freedoms for citizens.”

However, when it comes to voting, many voters default to voting for either a Democratic or Republican candidate instead of a third party.

Lawless said, “It’s something called voter apathy, where you know that, ‘Hey, if I vote for a third party or a minor party, most likely they’re not going to be elected,’ so you have to pick one of the major parties to go with and vote for whoever you think has the best platform that you agree with. I would just vote for which candidate I hate the least…If you’re voting for a third party, you’re basically wasting your vote, so you kind of align yourself to a Republican or Democratic candidate because, even though you don’t agree with all of their platform, you might agree with one more.”

Ziegler said Independent voters do usually vote for a major political party for the same reasons that Lawless cited.

“Independent candidates have had a sort of disadvantage with their support base just because the Democratic and Republican parties are so much larger and popular thus far,” Ziegler said. “A vote for an Independent kind of proves to have less effect in the end in the sense that it would be very difficult for such a candidate to gain enough votes in comparison to the other parties. However, as Independent political views become more popular, more people are educating themselves on the subjects at hand.”

When it comes to deciding what political values she aspires to uphold as an Independent, Harris said she bases most of her beliefs on her own morals as well as what she thinks would ameliorate the nation in the long run. Because she does not belong to a major political party, it is up to her to define her own pursuits and criteria for candidates.

“I would like to say (I would vote) based on what is best for the country and the goals that candidate has, but my personal opinion does create bias,” Harris said. “An easy example is with a social issue: gay marriage. I fully support gay rights. This falls under my personal beliefs, but I support it because there is absolutely nothing wrong with it in any way in my eyes.”

Chard Reid, IB business teacher and Libertarian candidate, poses with his campaign poster. According to Reid, voters are not yet ready to elect a third party.
Chard Reid, IB business teacher and Libertarian candidate, poses with his campaign poster. According to Reid, voters are not yet ready to elect a third party.

Reid also said he agrees that Independents can waver in how they vote in the end, as they do not have explicit guidelines, but recognizes the victories of a third party candidate may neither be widespread nor reasonable.

“Well, an Independent could be very liberal or very conservative. They don’t have a set of ideals or beliefs. . . You know about having a party. You’re saying, ‘I have my own unique way of thinking,’” Reid said. “Truthfully, the voters aren’t ready to elect a third party. Too many voters pull a straight ticket and don’t even think about who’s running in a given race.”

With millennials especially, Lawless suggests the desire to be unique causes some people to follow the route of political independence.

“Our culture now fosters ‘hipster-dom,’ and some people want to be political hipsters and be like, ‘Oh, I voted for a third party’ or ‘Oh, I don’t identify with Republicans or Democrats’ just because they want to be their own,” Lawless said.

Harris also offered alternative reasons as to why others may regard themselves as Independents, but her personal justifications for her own ideology differed.

“I think (political stance) varies from person to person. (More millennials distinguish themselves as Independents) maybe to be rebellious or maybe because the generation’s beliefs tend to be different,” Harris said. “I’m not going to agree with any candidate completely, but the parties and labels they identify with don’t matter as much as the details and what they are planning to do as a leader.”

While Lawless confirms that he is a unique individual beyond facets pertaining to his political thoughts, he said he makes no conscious effort to mold his personality or his ideologies in a certain way. He said his political values are rooted upon his own knowledge of the democratic system instead of upon the “hipster-dom” culture he mentioned earlier.

“Do I follow the norm? Not really. I don’t play football; I play rugby. I fly airplanes. I do little different things than normal teenagers do, so I’m a little bit off the curve,” Lawless said. “I don’t try to be different, just like I’m not Independent merely because it’s something different.”

Harris said she agreed with this outlook. She said while she tried to change herself in order to stick out in the past, this is no longer the case. Because of this transition in her thought process, she said she is comfortable identifying as politically distinct.

“People aren’t going to like me. Cool. I used to really try to be unique and to be liked, but honestly now I just don’t give a crap. It’s exhausting, and it literally gets you nowhere closer to where you want to go in life,” Harris said. “I think being Independent lets me agree with who I agree with regardless of labels they have when others can sometimes feel forced to agree because they are under the same party as them. It does affect other aspects of my life.”

As an Independent, Harris also recognizes some of her policies on issues vary from those of her peers. Even though she resides in a predominantly Republican area, Harris said she respects the perspectives of others and values political discussion if contentions are well supported. However, she said the same luxury is not always afforded to her.

“I am also quite passionate about certain topics, but without hearing another side of the story, I think people won’t be educated enough about that topic. So discussing politics…is a learning opportunity. It helps me have a well-rounded view on politics and…understand views that are not my own,” Harris said. “Being told I’m only Independent because I’m not smart enough to make a real decision does affect my relationships with others.”

Also aware of the sensitivity of political issues, Lawless said he is cautious when discussing politics with others.

“My dad is extremely conservative…I tend to agree with them on a lot of things, but some things we don’t see eye-to-eye, so we don’t talk about it,” Lawless said. “Between me and my friends, we talk about politics, but it’s not like a major talking point for me. I just try to keep it to myself after learning that people have different opinions, and they can get really offensive about their opinions.”

Lawless said despite the types of political mindset prevalent in his household, he appreciates the type of atmosphere he was provided, because it allowed him to develop his own attitudes.

“Just being raised in a family where I can listen to things influenced me. I started listening to talk radio when I was a little, and the Internet is definitely a really good resource to start reading on the things that are happening in the government,” Lawless said. “It’s also important to read on your own time and not just going through school and doing your own research on things; it definitely helps.”

Ziegler attributes this political trend to the type of research people like Lawless are doing. He said as voters educate themselves on their options, they begin to develop their own viewpoints.

“A lot of this can be associated with how this current generation has more access to technology. So they can do their own research and decide which candidate truly supports their views instead of just joining one political party,” Ziegler said. “With these more Independent voters, we can see that they go through this process of comparing their stances with those of the candidates to decide which one to vote for.”

Regarding the growth in the amount of Independent voters, Ziegler also said this could lead to beneficial changes in the government that would help the democratic system prosper.

“If anything, more Independent voters would mean there would be a greater mix of Republicans and Democrats in government positions,” Ziegler said. “This would actually represent the Democratic mindset better because with these differing opinions…there would have to be much more compromise. Decisions would reflect the ideas of the people with a greater variety brought to attention.”

As divergence from political beliefs that are outlined more clearly increases, Lawless said individuals are given the opportunity to mold their political creeds on a more personal level. Since he said such freedom mirrors the open mentalities of millennials as they are exposed to so much more than previous generations were at their age, Lawless joins the ranks of Independents who allow their open-mindedness to bleed through to other layers of their lives.

Lawless said, “I just do me, and other people do them; it’s whatever people feel like they need to do. Take a stand on something you believe in and vote for it and nurture that kind of political independence on your own.”