Fun with Congressional Data: The myth of Independent Representation.

This is the fourth installment in the “Fun with Congressional Data” series and as I said in the first installment, I’m going to take a look at the tiny proportion of independents in this country today. You can check out my other posts with the links below:

  1. Party Majority after election in the House/Senate since 1931 and a congressional majority’s connection to changes in Real/Nominal GDP.
  2. Occupation status of congress since 1953.
  3. Percentages of Congress and House/Senate of Democrats and Republicans since 1857.
  4. This post: The myth of independent representation and choices in 2016.
  5. Amount of $$ spent on elections by Incumbents vs. Challengers and it’s effect on re-election since 1974.

The data comes from here. So let’s start with the mythical independent politician. Check out the percent of the elected congress since 1857 who described themselves as independent (not D/R).


As you can see, the idea that the two party system is a recent phenomenon is a myth. Since 1857, there were only two periods where independents made up over 5% of congress. The first was predating and during the civil war  with the 35th and 36th congresses containing several American party members who wanted to limit immigration and the  37th congress which contained 24 members of the unionist party at the start of the session (among several lesser parties). This was the highest proportion of elected independents in the history of the U.S., topping out at 14.87  % of congress. Even in this time, the Democrats and Republicans held control and would continue to this day.

The second period in which independents achieved above a 5% of congress was the 55th and 56th congresses which elected many populists  and several members of the Silver Party (which supported using silver in conjunction with Gold to back the dollar). Both of these movements were short lived and dissipated from the political landscape in the early 1900’s. The last hurrah for the independent party, it appears, was in the late 1930’s featuring the progressive and farmer-labor parties but these parties failed to break the 5% barrier. Let’s take a look at the house/senate breakdown of independents below to get a better feel for these trends.

We see that the Silver and Populist parties made a bigger dent in the senate in the late 1800’s (but there are less members of the senate). Aside from this time and the civil war era, Senate independents have not owned over a 5% majority. The only time that house independents crossed this threshold was during the pre-civil war period.

So what can we do to break this 2 party stranglehold on America?

Go vote for independents (but please check their record and views) in your congressional midterm elections!

If you enjoyed this post, check out some of the other “Fun with Congressional Data” Posts:



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