We’re in an epic funk. The headlines this summer have been brutal: “Faith in America and its institutions collapsing.” “Trust in presidency, Congress, media at all time lows.”

In this time of disruption, it follows then that the political parties would be taking a major hit to the brand, too.

Recent polling shows that the approval ratings for both major parties are at or near all-time lows — amazingly, at the same time.

The Democrats are mired in the worst of it. The NBC network’s latest poll, in May, had the Democrats underwater by 19 points, with 31% approving of their work and 50% disapproving. Those are the worst numbers for Democrats going back at least two decades. Republicans were doing slightly better, but still with only 35% approving.


It’s hard to imagine now, but back in the early 2000s, both political parties had approval ratings above 50% at the same time. That means there were people out there, actual Americans, who liked both of them.

Anyway, with all this disenchantment in the ether now, it has me wondering once again: Will this be the year that something different finally breaks through?


It’s the unicorn of politics: No independent or nonpartisan candidate has been elected to a congressional, state or legislative office here in our state for decades.

“If I were to win, I would be the first nonpartisan secretary of state elected anywhere in America since 1914,” says Julie Anderson, of Tacoma.

Anderson is one of eight secretary of state candidates in the Aug. 2 primary, most of whom are Democrats or Republicans. Even the ballot setup isn’t designed for her. She wanted it to say she’s “nonpartisan,” but because of our strict ballot rules it will end up reading, oxymoronically, that she’s running under the banner of the “Nonpartisan Party.”

She’s the Pierce County auditor, in charge of that county’s election systems. Her pitch is simple: The person who oversees counting the votes shouldn’t be on any team. Not after we all just saw a U.S. president pressuring secretaries of state to “find votes” to undermine a national election.

“We’re one of the only democracies in the world that lets partisan politicians oversee the elections,” Anderson said. “I think we’re seeing around the country how these institutions can be cannibalized, and compromised, by partisan allegiances.”

It can come from the outside in, as it did with Donald Trump. The previous secretary of state, Republican Kim Wyman, got so weary of the baseless election fraud allegations and constant pressuring coming from her own party that she left midterm and went to work on election security for the federal government.


But even if it sounds good in theory to have an independent secretary of state, could one get elected?

A new Seattle Times poll, conducted last week, found that the number of Washington voters who self-identify as “independent” has risen to 29% — up from 20% in a similar poll, from the same pollster, at this same time in 2020. That means that as primary voting has begun, this amorphous group is larger than the base of the Republicans (who came in at 25% of voters in the poll — the Democrats are at 38%).

Anderson, who has raised the second-most money in the field behind only Democratic former state Sen. Steve Hobbs, is hoping voters’ disenchantment with both teams will lead them to cast about for an alternative.

Warning: Voters who don’t identify with either party have a big glitch. Which is that they often don’t vote.

California just had a race for attorney general in which a high-profile candidate ran as an independent. In that state, voters declare a party allegiance when they register, and the proportion rejecting both major parties has soared, to nearly a third of the electorate. So the time seemed ripe.

But in the state’s June primary, only 18% of these “no party preference” voters actually cast ballots. The independent candidate got trounced. Political consultants say these voters are almost impossible to rally to a cause.


“They don’t believe anything you tell them,” one Democratic consultant, Andrew Acosta, told McClatchy. “You tell them, ‘The sky is blue today.’ They’re like, ‘Really? I don’t know.’ They’re grumpy … many of them are independent for a reason.”

Still, there’s a boomlet of independent candidates trying to shoot the elusive gap, with candidates running for governor of Oregon and a number of state legislative seats — including in Auburn where former GOP state party chairman Chris Vance is running as an independent.

One independent candidate, Al Gross, actually made it through the primary for Alaska’s congressional race this summer. But everyone was furious at him — the Democrats because he said he might not caucus with them, and the Republicans because they see him as a closet liberal (they have dubbed him a “fake independent.”)

So despite qualifying for the general election, Gross dropped out: “It is just too hard to run as a nonpartisan candidate in this race,” he said.

History says these candidates have no chance — even as political tribalism, or full-on partisan cultism, only deepens. But history hasn’t exactly been moving in a straight line lately, either.

“It is hard,” Anderson said, after I read her that quote from Alaska’s Gross. She gets doubts all the time because she lacks the D or R badge. People side-eye her and say “but what are you really?”

“This hyperpolarization has infected everything,” she says. “We’ve got to pull back from it at least a bit to allow more space for basic professionalism in government. Or it’s going to totally consume us.”