Unaffiliated voters make up more than 3 million of New York's registered voters. Advocacy group Common Cause NY recently conducted a study to understand who these voters are, where they are and how they can be better served by New York's election process.
"The idea is to ground a detailed and serious discussion with actual facts and data,” said Executive Director Susan Lerner.
Common Cause NY says those facts and data are painting a clear picture of who unaffiliated New York voters are. They tend to be white, college educated and about a third live in New York City, with higher concentrations in the Lower Hudson Valley, Albany and Long Island.
Figuring out why they're not registered with a party was an important question too, says Lerner.
She said the focus group discussions found that these individuals are deeply attached to their status as not being beholden to either party.
“Over and over and over again, we heard the word 'independent' as a source of pride and identification, so asking them if they felt closer to Republicans or Democrats seemed to be beside the point,” she said.
The largest chunk, 36%, say they disliked partisanship or both parties, while 18% consider themselves centrist, moderate, independent or non partisan, among other offered responses.
Their independent status however does not mean they're disengaged when it comes to voting. Most say elections at all levels of government are a priority, with voting in presidential elections at the top.
Common Cause wants the state to capitalize on that enthusiasm as New York has closed primaries, so these voters can't participate in those elections. Thirty-six percent of unaffiliated voters say that leaves them feeling frustrated, 19% are angry about it, others feeling sad, shame and a smaller group happy.
“We didn’t have an insight into what would motivate the 3 million-plus unaffiliated voters that everybody seemed to be chasing after,” Lerner said.
The report listed three proposals to get this growing group of voters involved, the first being an open primary. That would allow everyone to vote in any primary race, and attracted 65% of overall voters.
Seventy-one percent of overall voters said they'd like to see primaries with no party affiliation and 29% of overall voters supported temporary party registration in order to participate in primaries.
They say the idea here is that as groups are pushing for primary election reform here in New York state, this is going to be one of the only comprehensive sources for data on the issue. Now that these results have been compiled, organizers hope they will be included in any discussion about changing election policy in New York.