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Op-Ed: The fear factor and winning the independent voter

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Voter trust and fear over the 2024 election are driving unprecedented interest in independent voters. The candidate who can address these fears, whether that candidate is President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump, will go on to win. With only a handful of states up for grabs, they need the independent vote.

Winning independent voters is going to be a challenge. What’s more worrying for America is that a majority of Pennsylvania and Arizona “first-time voters” (voters aged 18-24) are ‘scared’ for the well-being of our country if either Trump or Biden is elected. But they see bipartisanship, or a politician who works across both sides of the aisle, as the only option that gives them some promise of security.

In a recent Bullfinch poll conducted in two of the likely 2024 battleground states, 54% of voters from Arizona and 52% from Pennsylvania felt their best representative would be a politician who works with both sides of the aisle. In fact, the data shows that in a toss-up state like Pennsylvania, 51% of self-identified Democrats and 45% of self-identified Republicans prefer a candidate who works with both sides of the aisle over a candidate who works and votes only with their party.

The problem these voters have is one of trust. There is little indication that either the Democrats or Republicans can convince independent voters they can be trusted.

In Arizona, 66% of Democrats, 22% of independents, and 6% of Republicans trust that Biden and his administration would address the key issues that matter most to the respondent and their neighbors.

In Pennsylvania, 70% of Democrats, 31% of independents, and just 9% of Republicans trust Biden and his administration to address key issues that matter most to them and their neighbors.

Independent voters nationwide, like most voters, don’t feel anyone is listening to them, further eroding their trust. They feel the issues they care most about are not being addressed. They believe that the country has never been in a worse position than it is today. In a recent survey by the Independent Center, 66% feel their representative in Washington, D.C., is not listening to their voice and concerns, yet 49% believe a non-aligned independent representative would more clearly represent them.

With this as the backdrop to the 2024 presidential election, it’s hard to imagine how anything good can come from the contest.

All of this attention on the independent voter is positive. Never before have so many voters indicated they want another option, a better option. Recent polling from a Harvard CAPS-Harris survey shows Robert Kennedy Jr. with the highest favorability rating of all 2024 presidential candidates. This is also represented by the emergence of Nikki Haley, who is attracting and winning independent interest. Independent voters are hungry for choices and interested in hearing what they say.

This is what needs to happen. After partisan gamesmanship, gerrymandering, and policy positions that purposely seek to divide Americans against each other, we might finally be turning the corner. This means a focus on bipartisan compromise, a position that can win the independent voter, especially in the swing states.

To win the swing states and their deep pool of independent voters, it’s going to be a contest of which party and which candidate demonstrates they understand the issues independent voters care about. This is the key to regaining trust, but it is no easy feat.

Refusing to acknowledge the issues and their importance to the independent voter is the first problem. Pretending we don’t have an immigration problem is not going to work, nor is denying the need to restructure Social Security before it goes bankrupt.

Everyone is talking about independent voters, but not many have taken a deep dive to understand who they are and what they believe.

They are as diverse as our country. They care about immigration and social reform, government and debt, inflation, and education. The research is clear: They care personally about jobs and social reform, but their position on abortion will determine their vote. This will make it hard for Republicans in the current environment. However, when asked, the issue they want to see their local candidates focus on most is affordability, a traditional Republican strength.

Both Democrats and Republicans can find opportunities – these voters aren’t exactly radical. These voters want innovative common sense policies. They want others to tolerate their differences while finding common ground to move ahead. They want policies and positions that offer choices so they can exercise their free will to make a difference on issues by choosing what paths are best for themselves, their families, and their communities. They don’t want to be told there is only one way to address climate change, reform healthcare, or government services. They are rejecting the extremism of both parties.

The candidate who wants to win independent voters needs to start listening. Conquering fear is going to mean change and is going to require some brave positions from both parties. The candidate who shows they are up for the challenge of rejecting extremism, reaching across the aisle, and having adult conversations with these voters can win.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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