The number of Americans who identify themselves as politically independent (39 percent) is currently at its highest point in more than 75 years of Pew Research polling.
This trend is particularly apparent among the millennial generation, 48 percent of whom identified as independent in the latest survey.
Millennials are still the most Democratic age cohort, and the statistics show that millennial “independents” tend to align more closely with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, especially when it comes to issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization. But regardless, many young people have chosen to forgo the label of “Democrat” or “Republican.”
These numbers have changed very little since last year, when Pew reported millennials were increasingly detached from “institutions” like politics and religion. Researchers attributed a great deal of this phenomenon to the digital world in which the millennial generation was raised.
Peter Levine, an associate dean at Tufts University, agreed that political parties are losing their influence over the millennial generation as a result of the rise of technology. Millennials grew up using social media, which has allowed them to personalize which networks and groups they choose to affiliate with, and design their own unique platform of views.
Additionally, technology has given millennials a great deal of choice in the marketplace. They may wish to pick-and-choose their political beliefs the same way they are used to choosing what music they want to listen to at any given moment.
Levine also speculated that millennials dislike structured political parties, and prefer more “loosely organized social movements” (for example, the Black Lives Matter movement), which allow them to express their opinions on an issue without strictly adhering to a party platform.
And finally, Levine pointed out that millennials are not the only ones who are changing. Political parties themselves have been profoundly changed by campaign finance reforms, which have restricted their ability to raise money and have allowed outside entities to spend more. These days the parties aren’t doing as much grassroots work and don’t reach out to young people as much as they used to for education or volunteering opportunities.