IN THE PAST few years, a larger share of Americans has opted not to identify as either a Republican or Democrat than at any point since pollsters began regularly asking about party affiliation. In 2015, according to Pew Research Center, some 40 percent of adults in the country self-described as "independents" rather than choosing one of the two major parties. That's up from a low of just 20 percent in 1961.
The percentage of American adults claiming to eschew traditional partisan politics has been inching and skipping upward over the decades, strongly suggesting that, as choices proliferate in most other areas of life, voters have become increasingly disgusted with the Team Red/Team Blue binary. But beware the temptation to extrapolate about electoral outcomes from this trend: It's far from clear an alternative party is poised to benefit at the ballot box.
If you push so-called independents on whether they "lean" toward one party or the other, a vast majority will admit they do. And "in many respects," Pew reported in 2014, "those who lean toward the parties--even if they identify as independent--have attitudes and behaviors that are very similar to those of partisans." In reality, most of those who initially refuse to be affiliated with either party will tend to line up with one side or the other.
That is just what we would expect based on...