A study released by Ali in August found that about 75 percent of college-aged students at the 16 public and private N.C. schools surveyed identified as independent — regardless of how they were registered as voters.
“One thing they share in common is that more and more people feel that the parties are actually the primary obstacle to progress in America,” Ali said.
UNC senior Kevin McCaffrey said he identifies as an independent because he feels voters are forced to align with all of one party’s ideology.
“I never wanted to be tied down,” he said.
Despite the increased presence of independent voters in the state, there are no registered independents serving in the N.C. General Assembly.
Ali said independent candidates have been hindered by rules dictated by the dominant parties — for example, independents running for statewide seats must acquire 100,000 signatures to get their name on the ballot.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said the increase in independents could have varied effects on voter turnout.
“If the trend increases overall participation, then it’s a positive one, but if it becomes an excuse for people not to participate in elections, then it’s a negative,” he said.
Ali said N.C. Independents try to connect independents because most feel they have no sense of fellowship.
Andrew Sleeth, a graduate admissions specialist at N.C. State University who is involved with N.C. Independents, said he was glad to be in touch with like-minded people.
“I’m very disturbed by the way in which political parties have hijacked the political and policy-making process in North Carolina,” he said.
But Hall said independent voters need to stay involved in the political process.
“If they become disenchanted with politics altogether, then it becomes a problem,” he said.
Still, Sleeth said he was hopeful that the future of the major party system could change.
“Maybe I’m being naively optimistic in that regard, but to me that is one of the things that gives me hope … that this chokehold the parties have can change.”