In politics, an independent is a politician who is not affiliated with any political party. Independents may hold a centrist viewpoint between those of major political parties, or they may have a viewpoint based on issues that they do not feel that any major party addresses. Other independent candidates are associated with a political party and may be former members of it, but choose not to stand under its label. A third category of independents are those who may belong to or support a political party but believe they should not formally represent it and thus be subject to its policies. Finally, some independent candidates may form a political party for the purposes of running for public office.
Independents have rarely been elected to the federal Parliament of Australia, although they are more commonly elected to state parliaments. A large number of independents are former members of one of Australia's main parties, the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia or the National Party of Australia.
Currently, three independents sit in the Australian House of Representatives: Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor from New South Wales and Bob Katter from Queensland - all three are former members of the National Party.
Independent Senators are quite rare. In modern politics, former ALP member Brian Harradine was re-elected to the Senate for decades and held considerable influence at times, as has Nick Xenophon, following his election to the Senate in the 2007 federal election.
Independent politicians have held considerable sway in the Canadian House of Commons in recent years as Canada has been governed by successive minority governments with independent Members of Parliament (MPs) sometimes sharing in the balance of power.
In the 2004 federal election, Chuck Cadman was elected to federal parliament as an independent MP representing the British Columbia riding of Surrey North. Cadman had previously represented that riding on behalf of the Reform Party of Canada and Canadian Alliance, but after the Canadian Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada to form the new Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, Cadman lost the nomination to represent the Conservative Party in that riding to Jasbir Singh Cheema. Cadman then stood in the subsequent election as an independent and defeated Cheema, as well as the candidates of other Canadian parties, by a significant margin.
In the spring of 2005, Cadman cast the tying vote in favour of a budget supported by the Liberal Party government of Paul Martin as well as the New Democratic Party (NDP), but opposed by the opposition Conservatives and Bloc Québécois. Two other independents also voted on that budget. Carolyn Parrish, independent MP for Mississauga—Erindale, had recently been kicked out of the Liberal Party for criticizing US president George W Bush, but nonetheless sided with the Liberals on the budget vote. David Kilgour independent MP for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, had previously quit the Liberal caucus and voted with the opposition parties against the budget. The tie vote required the Speaker of the House Peter Milliken to cast the deciding vote, and he did so in favor of the budget, allowing the government to survive.
Cadman was terminally ill with cancer at the time he cast his crucial vote, and he died later in 2005. In the 2006 federal election, his riding was won by NDP candidate Penny Priddy. Neither Parrish nor Kilgour (nor Pat O'Brien, MP for London—Fanshawe, who quit the Liberal Party to sit as an independent after the 2005 budget vote) stood for re-election in 2006.
Another independent candidate, André Arthur, was elected in the Quebec riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier in 2006, and was the only independent to win a seat in that election. He was re-elected in the October 14, 2008 federal election. Former Progressive Conservative and Conservative MP Bill Casey, who was expelled from the Conservative Party for voting against the 2007 Federal Budget, also ran as an independent in the 2008 election, easily retaining his seat.
Candidates in federal elections who are not affiliated with a party have two options: independent or no affiliation. In the former case, they appear on the ballot with "Independent" following their name; in the second case, they appear with their name only. The two options are otherwise equivalent.
The territorial legislatures of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are consensus governments with no political parties, so that all members sit as independents. There are a few independent members of the other subnational legislatures, which are similar in principle to the federal House of Commons; for example, in the 2009 election in British Columbia, independent candidate Vicki Huntington narrowly defeated incumbent Attorney General Wally Oppal as MLA for Delta South.
True independents should not be confused with members of parties without official party status in a legislature. Most legislatures provide that a party must hold a certain number of seats to enjoy certain advantages in staffing, budget, ability to ask questions in Question Period, and the like. Although members whose parties do not hold this status may have no more privileges than independent members, they remain representatives of political parties.
Also, members who are expelled from or choose to leave their party caucus may sit as "Independent" with some designation, e.g. "Independent Liberal" or "Independent Conservative," to indicate their affiliation to that party even if it is not officially recognized.
Election as an independent is far more common at the municipal level. Many municipalities have no tradition of political parties.
After the Irish general election in 2007, there were five Independent Teachtaí Dála (Members of Parliament) in Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish parliament), representing 3% of the total. Four of these Independents signed agreements to support the current Irish government. One of them (Beverley Flynn) subsequently re-joined the main government party of Fianna Fáil. Another Finian McGrath withdrew his support after budget cutbacks. There are seven Independent Senators in Seanad Éireann (the upper house of the Irish parliament).
There are four independent Members of Parliament in the Dewan Rakyat as of March 2010. In the 2008 general election, Ibrahim Ali, Zahrain Mohamed Hashim, Tan Tee Beng and Mohsin Fadzli Samsuri were each elected on the tickets of parties in the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition. Each since left their parties to sit as independents.
For most of its history, New Zealand was governed by a First Past the Post electoral system, leading to bipartisan dominance by the New Zealand Labour Party and New Zealand National Party. In the sixties, this began to break down, as protest votes flowed to the Social Credit Political League. In 1984, the New Zealand Party split the centre-right vote, reacting against the Keynesian economic policies of Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, although the party was never elected to Parliament.
In the nineties, New Zealand adopted the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system after two referenda on the subject provided a majority for electoral reform in 1992 and 1993. In 1996, this meant that the New Zealand First and centre-left Alliance Party were represented in sufficient number to match their voter share. However, both parties were to prove unstable over the next decade or so. New Zealand First left the first MMP coalition government in 1998, and the resultant split left a reduced New Zealand First on the Opposition benches, while the Alliance suffered its own haemorrhage of support from its constituent parties. One former Mana Motuhake List MP, Alamein Kopu, seceded from the caucus, as did Frank Grover, who then joined the Christian Heritage Party.
In response to the above situation, in which Prime Minister Jenny Shipley maintained power with the assistance of these breakaway List MPs, the incoming Fifth New Zealand Labour-led government passed an "Electoral Integrity Act", which evicted List MPs who would not obey party discipline from Parliament. Although ACT New Zealand opposed the new legislation, it later used it against one of its own errant members, former List MP Donna Awatere Huata.
However, the Electoral Integrity Act had a sunset clause, and ceased to operate in 2005. After that, it was Labour's turn to be supported by breakaway List MPs from its own ranks - Taito Phillip Field of the New Zealand Pacific Party - and former United Future List MP Gordon Copeland, who formed The Kiwi Party. Neither party survived the New Zealand general election 2008.
At present, there are two sole MP parties in the incoming 49th New Zealand Parliament. These are Jim Anderton of the New Zealand Progressive Party, former Alliance leader, and Peter Dunne, who led the United Future caucus for six years (2002–2008), but attracted insufficient support to gain additional party list votes after the current election. Neither Anderton nor Dunne are currently classed as "independents," although this may change if their respective party infrastructures ceased to exist.
Polish Sejm election ordination in practice does not allow lone candidates to run. Tickets always have multiple candidates as every district is represented by multiple Sejm Members. Hence, almost all tickets are partisan. However, during a Sejm term many Sejm Members switch parties or become independents.
The situation in the Senate is different, as the voting system allows independents to run as single candidates and some are elected in their own right.
Three Presidents since 1990 have technically been independents. Lech Wałęsa was not an endorsed candidate of any party, but the chairman of the Solidarity and he was elected without full support of this union (Solidarity votes split between him and Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki). Aleksander Kwaśniewski was a leader of the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, but formally resigned from the party after he was elected, as Lech Kaczyński, who was the first leader of Law and Justice, did after he got elected.
Noli de Castro, the Philippines' current vice president, ran as senator in 2001 with no political party affiliation. He was an adopted candidate of the opposition Pwersa ng Masa coalition but he never joined their campaign rallies. He won in the senate race with the highest votes (then) in Philippine history.
In most recent history, popular independent Philippine politicians include Senator Antonio Trillanes IV (former Oakwood mutiny leader) and Pampanga Governor Eddie "Among Ed" Panlilio (Who is move to (Liberal Party).
All of Russia's Presidents have been independents. Current President Dmitry Medvedev was offered to join United Russia but politely declined, saying that he believes the President should be an independent so that he serves the interests of the country rather than his political party.
Independent Members of Parliament were once frequently elected in the United Kingdom, but they have been much less successful in the last half-century. (See List of UK minor party and independent MPs elected.)
Two independent or minor party MPs were elected in the 2005 election: Peter Law (MP for Blaenau Gwent), who died on April 25, 2006, and Dr. Richard Taylor, sole MP of the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern party (for the constituency of Wyre Forest). Taylor's election to Parliament is most notable for the fact that he is the only independent in recent times to have been re-elected for a second term. Since Peter Law's death, the by-election has yielded another independent MP - Dai Davies. There have also been several instances of MPs being elected under the auspices of a particular party, then resigning the party whip, or having it withdrawn: examples in the current parliament include Clare Short and Robert Wareing (formerly Labour) and Derek Conway (formerly Conservative).
The introduction of directly elected mayors in several parts of England has witnessed the election of independent candidates to run councils in Stoke-on-Trent, Middlesbrough, Bedford, Hartlepool and Mansfield. The first Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was originally elected as an independent, having run against the official Labour candidate Frank Dobson. He was subsequently re-admitted to the Labour Party before his first re-election campaign.
Independent candidates frequently stand and are elected to local councils. There is a special Independent group of the Local Government Association to cater for them.
Independent candidates frequently stand in parliamentary elections, often with platforms about specific local issues, but usually with little success. A typical example from the 2001 general election was when Aston Villa supporter Ian Robinson stood as an independent candidate in the Sutton Coldfield constituency, in protest at the way chairman Doug Ellis ran the club. Another example, in the Aldershot constituency, of an independent candidate is King Arthur Pendragon - a notorious local who walks around town in long white robes with a long grey beard and a sword he claims to be Excalibur.
At the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary elections, three MSPs were elected as Independents: Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West), Dr Jean Turner (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) and Margo MacDonald (Lothians). In 2004 Campbell Martin (West of Scotland region) left the Scottish National Party to become an independent and in 2005 Brian Monteith (Mid Scotland and Fife) left the Conservative Party to become an independent. At the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections Margo MacDonald was again returned as an independent MSP.
Other independent candidates are associated with a political party and may be former members of it, but are not able to stand under its label. For instance, after being expelled from the Labour Party but before joining the Respect Coalition, British Member of Parliament (MP) George Galloway described himself as "Independent Labour".
A third category of independents are those who may belong to or support a political party but believe they should not formally represent it and thus be subject to its policies. This was common among members of most political parties for the purpose of British local government elections until the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Some independents in the United Kingdom have registered locality-based political parties. British examples include Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern, Epsom and Ewell Residents Association, Loughton Residents Association, Derwentside Independents; many are local residents' or ratepayers' associations that contest elections. They are usually considered independent as they have no alignment in national politics.
On 23rd March 2005 the Independent Network was set up to support independent candidates in the General Election. The Independent Network still supports Independent candidates in local, regional, national and European elections. It has an organic set of principles known as the Bell Principles and are very closely related to Lord Nolan's Standards of Public Life. The Independent Network does not impose any ideology or political influence on their candidates.
In March 2009, Sir Paul Judge established the Jury Team, an umbrella organisation dedicated to increasing the number of Independent candidates standing in the UK, both in domestic and European elections.
Historically, George Washington was the only president elected as an independent, as he was not formally affiliated with any party during his two terms.
John Tyler was expelled from the Whig Party in September 1841, and remained effectively an independent for the remainder of his presidency, later becoming a Democrat. He briefly sought re-election in 1844 as a National Democrat, but withdrew as he feared to split the Democratic vote.
Recent prominent independent candidates for president of the United States include John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992, and Ralph Nader in the 2004 and 2008 elections. In 2008, independent Presidential candidate, Ralph Nader formed Independent Parties in New Mexico, Delaware, and elsewhere to gain ballot access in several states. This strategy has been pursued by several 'independent' candidates for Federal races, including Joe Lieberman (Connecticut for Lieberman).
Maine, Oregon and Texas are the only states to have elected formally independent candidates as governor: James B. Longley in 1974 and Angus King in 1994 and 1998 from Maine, Julius Meier in 1930 from Oregon, and Sam Houston in 1859 from Texas. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. is sometimes mentioned as an independent governor, though this is not technically correct; he ran as A Connecticut Party candidate (which gave him better ballot placement than an unaffiliated candidate would receive), defeating the Democratic and Republican party nominees. Another former governor who is sometimes mentioned as an independent is Jesse Ventura, who actually ran as a member of the Reform Party's Minnesota affiliate, which later disaffiliated from the party and reverted to their original name the Independence Party of Minnesota.
In 1971, State Senator Henry Howell of Virginia, a former Democrat, was elected lieutenant governor as an independent. Two years later, he campaigned for governor as an independent, losing the election by only 15,000 votes.
Recent polls predicting the gubernatorial election in Massachusetts shows an independent having at least 30% of the possible vote in November 2010, ahead of Either possible Republican candidate and tying with the Democratic Incumbent.
There were several unsuccessful independent gubernatorial candidates in 2006 who impacted their electoral races. In Maine, state legislator Barbara Merrill (formerly a Democrat) received 21% of the vote in Maine. In Texas, country music singer and mystery novelist Kinky Friedman received 12.43% of the vote, and State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn received 18.13%. Strayhorn and Friedman's presence in the race resulted in a splitting of the ballot four ways between themselves and the two major parties.
There have been several independents elected to the United States Senate throughout history. Notable examples include David Davis of Illinois (a former Republican) in the nineteenth century, and Harry F. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia (who had been elected to his first term as a Democrat) in the twentieth century. Some officials have been elected as members of a party but became independent while in office (without being elected as such), such as Wayne Morse of Oregon or Virgil Goode of Virginia. Vermont senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party to become an independent in 2001. Jeffords's change of party status was especially significant because it shifted the Senate composition from 50-50 between the Republicans and Democrats (with a Republican Vice President, Dick Cheney, who would presumably break all ties in favor of the Republicans), to 49 Republicans, 50 Democrats, and one Independent. Jeffords agreed to vote for Democratic control of the Senate in exchange for being appointed chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and the Democrats held control of the Senate until the Congressional elections in 2002, when the Republicans regained their majority. Jeffords retired at the end of his term in 2007. Wayne Morse after two years as an independent became Democrat, while Goode switched to Republican.
Representative Bernie Sanders was an independent member of the United States House of Representatives for Vermont-at-large from 1991 to 2007. Sanders later won the open Senate seat of Jim Jeffords as an independent. Joe Lieberman a former Democrat who ran, like Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., under a third party (Connecticut for Lieberman Party) in the 2006 election. Though both representatives are technically independent politicians, they caucus with the Democrats. In 2006, there were only two victorious independent candidates for Congress: Bernie Sanders and Joseph Lieberman.
In August 2008, there were twelve people who held offices as independents in state legislatures. There were four state senators, one from Kentucky, one from Oregon, one from Tennessee, and one from New Mexico. The representatives came from the states of Louisiana (two), Maine (two), Vermont (two), and Virginia (two). In the 2008 general elections, Wisconsin State Assemblyman Jeffrey Wood left the Republican Party and won reelection as an independent. After the 2008 primary election, New Mexico State Senator Joseph Carraro left the Republican Party and registered as an Independent. He did not run for reelection.
In November 2005 Manny Diaz was elected Mayor of Miami, Florida as an independent. On June 19, 2007, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent. Oscar Goodman, Mayor of Las Vegas, Nevada switched his affiliation to Independent from Democrat in December 2009.