Identity and Engagement among Political Independents in America

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Abstract

Political behavior among independents has been documented for decades, yet we are left with limited insight into their political engagement. What, if anything, motivates independents to engage in politics? In this study, I apply psychological theories of attitude importance to explain high variation in political-engagement levels among independents. Using two recent datasets, I find engagement levels are comparable across independents and partisans, yet predictors of their engagement differ substantially. Ideological strength predicts engagement for partisans—but not for independents. Instead, my data show that independents' engagement is best predicted by the importance they place on their independent identity. These data provide evidence that independence is a meaningful political identity and that identity importance is a key to explaining what motivates the independent voter to engage with politics.

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