This election year the possibility of a Trump presidency and a Sanders candidacy aren’t the only indicators of a national shift away from party lines and toward populist candidates.
This May marks the first time that the Independent Party of Oregon will have candidates on the primary ballot, and the first time since 1912 that a party other than Republican or Democrat has done so.
The IPO received major party status last year, after receiving at least 5 percent of registered voters in Oregon. It’s a young party, founded in 2007 amidst voter frustration of new state laws that prevented non-affiliated candidates from running for office. Now they have 18 candidates running for office.
Five percent may not sound like a lot, but it accounts for over 100,000 voters in the state – about 10,000 in Lane County alone, according to voter registration for March 2016. The IPO is the fastest growing party in the state, seizing a growing number of unaffiliated voters, which last year totaled over half a million.
“I think we really appeal to the voters who feel ignored by both parties and want another option,” said Secretary for the IPO Sal Peralta. “We don’t work along party lines and often try to work across the aisle with legislators in both parties.”
Current Oregon State Lottery Commissioner and former Oregon Senator Chris Telfer is running for State Treasurer this year as an Independent.
“I chose to run as Independent because too often in the Senate I saw people were only interested in what their party wanted and not what Oregonians wanted,” Telfer said. “The IPO gives me the opportunity to show people that there are policymakers who don’t only side with their party’s interests.”
Peralta described the IPO’s platform as generally more fiscally conservative than the Democrats and a bit more socially liberal than the Republicans.
He also highlighted that the trend since the party began has been increasing numbers of younger voters registering as Independent.
“Resoundingly, our voters are under the age of 40,” Peralta said. “We’re seeing younger generations of people not wanting to align themselves with parties that are increasingly further left or right.”
Telfer, who teaches an accounting class at Oregon State University, said that she has seen a more vocal and politically active college crowd.
“I’m encouraged to see so many young people looking at which person will best represent them, not which party,” she said. “The young generations now have the task of reshaping our democracy and the way we vote in the future.
Roughly 33 percent of registered Independents voted in the primary this year, a relatively low number. Since the party didn’t have a definitive candidate for president, Independent voters had to write in their choice. Election offices have until mid-June to count those ballots and decide on a winner.
As election results roll in, the focus is on whether the emergence of a new major party will mean a central shift in Oregon’s political landscape.