A growing number of Alaskans identify as politically independent, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Almost 60 percent of those surveyed consider themselves independents, up 12 percent from 47 in 2013. Alaska has traditionally been among the states with the highest percentages of residents who identify as independents, Gallup says. The current Alaskan independent percentage far exceeds the national average of 40 percent.

These stats are released at a time when a crucial Senate race pits Republican Dan Sullivan against Democrat Mark Begich.

The new shift in political preference among Alaskans could mean that their vote is not something candidates can count on, says Forrest Nabors, political scientist and University of Alaska Anchorage assistant professor.

But, Nabors says, it could benefit some candidates.

“I think this really opens an opportunity for Bill Walker in the gubernatorial election,” Nabors said. “And he, running as an independent, can appeal to everybody across the board.”

Walker left the Republican Party when he announced his gubernatorial candidacy last year. He and Byron Mallot recently joined forces to form a unified independent ticket for governor and lieutenant governor.

In the Gallup poll, Alaskans reported very high confidence in state government and high confidence in the Alaskan economy.

“That typically favors gubernatorial incumbents,” Nabors said of those findings.

But it doesn’t mean Gov. Sean Parnell can breathe easy. The governor has had his share of political misfortunes recently, including a scathing report detailing allegations of fraud and sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard.

As the weeks wind down until the general election in November, candidates have an opportunity to take advantage of this expanse in the middle of the two main political parties.

But they have to be careful in their attempts to turn independent voters out to the polls that they don’t turn them off in the process.

They must first be well-versed on what exactly a politically independent classification means in Alaska and why such a great increase has been reported at this point in time. Those are answers the Gallup poll can’t provide.