‘Floating Voters’ Reject Party Labels

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ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – Dan Ramich of Fairport works in sales and is a married father of two college-age boys. His beliefs line up with the Republican Party, but he’s opted not to join.

He is far from alone. There are more than 112,000 unaffiliated registered voters in Monroe County, with more than 2.5 million in New York State.

Ramich said talking about political labels has become toxic, and he avoids using them.

“It seems like we can’t even talk about them without people throwing phrases at us and pigeonholing us because of what our beliefs are,” said Ramich.

Voters Registered as of February 21, 2020 per the NYS Board of Elections Credit James Brown / WXXI News

He said the parties have to earn his vote, and he makes choices based on individual issues like taxes and education.

“It’s so complex,” continued Ramich. “It takes so many variables that go into the choice you make.”

Ramich said political parties are like teams, and for many, supporting that team is often more important than what a candidate believes in.

SUNY Geneseo Political Science Professor Jeffrey Koch agrees with Ramich, saying that affiliated voters tend not to stray from their party no matter who runs. He calls Ramich and other voters without parties “floating voters.”

“They can be more influenced by the personalities of the candidates or their perceptions of the candidates or something like the state of the nation,” said Koch.

Using history as a guide, Koch said unaffiliated voters will show up in droves for this year’s election and most won’t vote again until the end of the presidential cycle. He also said voters in New York state float in unique ways. For example, there’s “cross-party endorsement,” where a candidate can appear on more than one ballot line.

“So you can vote for a candidate, let’s say on the Conservative Party line or the Republcan Party line,” described Koch. “No other state in the United States has that.”

That’s an option that Claire Hawley Zarcone prefers, largely because she’s frustrated by the system and wants third parties to survive. Hawley Zarcone is a graduate student who lives in Brighton. A married mother of two,she said she’s been unaffiliated since she first registered to vote.

Claire Hawley Zarcone CREDIT PROVIDED

“I mean I’m 38 and it’s been a long time and the older I get, the more serious I feel about it, that I’m not   gonna join one of those parties,” said Hawley Zarcone. “I will vote for a candidate from one of the major parties but I’m not going to kinda compromise myself by basically signing up for an entire platform that I don’t necessarily agree with.”

She also said being a no-party voter was a bigger issue when she lived in the city, because nearly every race in city government is decided in the primaries. Even with that issue out of the way for her, she can’t help but think that there should be more options. She said those options are left out because politics is fueled by money, even within the party structure.

“I feel like I’m always voting for the lesser of two evils and I feel like different ideas don’t get heard,” She said. “I feel like the little guy gets left out.”

Koch said not wanting to compromise is a common trait among no-party voters but believes the reality is that the current system makes compromise nearly inescapable.

“The fact that there are only two parties, (it) really simplifies things,” said Koch. “You know there’s some benefits about that, but it means that you can’t find one that you fit 100 percent.”

This is part two of a two part series on unaffiliated voters. Check out part one here.