There are those who believe voting for a candidate from an independent party is a wasted vote. Yet the evidence is to the contrary, and shows a solution to the polarization engulfing our country.

In the 2016 presidential election, the Democrats’ nominee Hillary Clinton garnered 48.2% of the popular vote and Republican Donald Trump had the support of 46.1% of eligible Americans who voted, a difference of 2.1%. Independent votes amounted to 5.7%. The independent voters prevented Trump from beating Clinton in the popular vote and prevented Clinton from having the support of the American majority.

The power of the independent voter is impacting the political landscape. These voters are preventing major-party candidates from garnering the majority support of the people they represent. Also, with our country nearly equally polarized between two extremes, independent voters now have the power to swing the outcomes of elections. The failures of the major parties to attract independent voters are costing them elections.

In the 2018 midterm elections, the country saw numerous results where the differences between the winners and losers of major-party candidates were significantly less than the number of independent voters. In the Kentucky governor’s race, the Republican candidate lost to the Democratic candidate 48.8% to 49.2%, a 0.4% difference, which was much less than the 2% of votes that went to independents. In Maine’s Congressional District 2 race, the Democratic candidate won with 46.3% of the votes and the Republican with 45.6% of the votes, a difference of 0.7%, which was a fraction of the large 8.1% that went to the independents.

To fully appreciate the trend of Americans seeking out third parties, look again at the 2016 election. For the first time in our nation’s history, seven Electoral College members abandoned the candidates they pledged to elect. Two abandoned Trump, and five abandoned Clinton. These seven “Hamilton” electors voted for independent candidates. These electors are so-named for Alexander Hamilton, who believed the voting conscience of the Electoral College system was so “the office of president will never fall to the lot any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” These Hamilton electors followed a trend of turning away from the major parties.

As the number of independent voters increases, so will their ranks in our legislative halls. When the number of independents pushes the major parties to less than an overall majority status, then extremist laws, favored by a single party and polarizing our country, will cease.

Not only is the myth of the wasted vote gone; it is the political game-changer.

Dave Crockett of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., owns engineering firms in Arizona and Michigan; is politically active; and is currently on sabbatical, working at Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth.