A recent Gallup poll recorded a record high number of Americans who think the current partisan system is broken. According to the poll 26% think the current two party system is sufficient, compared to the 60% of Americans that think a third party is needed. The 60% marks a record high, according to Gallup.
When the question of a third party is asked the trends have been near or above 50 percent since 2006, with decreases during presidential election years, likely because of the full scale roll out of party apparatuses and the need for ideological unity, even if that means picking the lesser of the two “evils” to defeat the most evil of the two.
It may come as a shock to some, but we do have third parties; we even have fourth, fifth and sixth parties.
If you listen hard enough, you may be able to hear the quiet shouts of the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Reform Party, the Communist Party USA, or independent Vermont candidate “Vermin Supreme” shouting, “we are here, we are here.”
The issue is not a lack of parties; it is that they just lack major support. Some of the more fringe parties lack support because they extreme, but some of the major third parties are not seen as viable. The issue of viability is dependent upon the level of the race. One could make a valid argument that in certain states or congressional races certain parties are not viable.
The fact is, unless major change occurs, the Republican and Democrat parties are the present and the future, unless another party replaces one of the aforementioned structures. That provides an opportunity for those, myself included, who see little difference between the parties. To be honest with you, I have not felt Republican in a long time. That is not saying I felt Democrat, by no means, but I have felt that the Republican party was no longer offering enough of an alternative.
I believe I am experiencing, years after the fact, what Ron Paul supporters underwent in 2008 and 2012.
That is why I think the Gallup poll report is promising. Not in that it means a third party is needed, but because it is indicative of the fact that the American people (or at least those polled) want a clear alternative party. I conclude this because people would not want a third party because the two are too different; they want a different party because the two are too similar. If there were an alternative, what would be the need for another alternative?
As I write this, I can already hear more than a few contrarian voices saying that people want a moderate third party, something in the middle, because the two are so different. Wrong. Look at what has been passed in Congress, it is bipartisan, usually with opposition on the left and the right because it doesn’t go far enough. Only when there is enough of a majority in the respective chamber to pass legislation without the need for bipartisan support does something agreeable to one side pass. This is indicative of compromising, on the part of both parties. Some applaud compromise, always. I do not.
Compromising for the sake of compromising only leads to bad outcomes, unbeneficial to all. Compromising on principles is indicative of no principles. Compromising for some of what you want so you can come back and get the rest, at once or in chunks in good politics, but you have to remember to come back and get the rest and not be willing to go two steps back for one step forward.
Additionally, look at the data and what it has done since 2008. With the exception of 2012, another presidential election year, the trend has gone up sharply, reaching the 60% it is at today. Since that time, the call for a third party reached 58% in 2010, when grassroots and the Tea Party fought the establishment, knocking out go-along-to-get-along incumbents. After the 2010 tea party wave the total trend dropped to 52%. Among Republicans it increased from 47% to 49%.
The major increase among Republicans has occurred since last year, when only 40% wanted a third party. Today, 52% Republicans see the need for and desire a third party. I doubt anyone, without being disingenuous by choice or ignorance, can argue that the desire among Republicans for a third party is because Governor Romney was too extreme.
There lies the opportunity. A new Republican party can be at hand. A new Republican party where principles are unwavering and unfaltering. A new Republican party where just winning elections is not enough, but where what one does once elected is what is important. Combined with the data from Gallup; the perception of President Obama, whose approval is dropping; and the public disapproval of his signature legislation, Obamacare, provide the opening for the Republican party to not just merely rebrand itself, but to reshape itself as a bold contrast, not a pale pastel.
Kenneth Depew | University of St. Thomas in Houston | @DepewK