The standoff in Washington has generated a groundswell of anger and disgust, but it’s not helping out either of the two political parties, at least not according to Gallup. Satisfaction with the two-party system has dropped to its lowest level ever, and 60% of respondents want a third major party to emerge:
Amid the government shutdown, 60% of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of this question. A new low of 26% believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans.
The results are consistent with Gallup’s finding of more negative opinions of both parties since the shutdown began, including a new low favorable rating for the Republican Party, and Americans’ widespread dissatisfaction with the way the nation is being governed.
It’s no big surprise to see independents leading this push. In the ten years of polling on this question, there has always been a majority of independents who want a third party. They likely see themselves as under-represented, even though both parties usually spend hundreds of millions of dollars to woo them. Now, though, a majority of Republicans (52%) and nearly a majority of Democrats (49%) feel the same way.
That raises significant questions about who the two major parties serve, as did an earlier poll this week from Gallup. The media take-away on that survey was the plummeting favorables of the GOP, down to its lowest level in 20 years at 28%. Less noted was the decline in favorables for Democrats as well; at 43%, they’re just two points above their record low in 2010, when the Tea Party arose and Democrats ended up losing 68 seats in the House.
Clearly, the disenchantment with political parties is more complex than just Republican disarray.
With that said, this seems more like a reaction than a really well-considered option. First, exactly what would a third party add to the current situation except more ambiguity? The third party isn’t likely to be more conservative; either it will consist of voters in the center who aggregate in reaction to the ideologues in both parties, or one party’s ideological base will split and the party will absorb the centrists. Adding a third pole to these discussions will make them more complicated, not less.
Second, we already have alternate parties. In fact, we have a number of them — but they rarely gain any traction, as voters tend to realize that they need to work within the two-party system to gain any headway on policy. Here in Minnesota, for example, we have the Independence Party, which usually fields candidates up and down the ballot. They’ve won one major race: Jesse Ventura’s gubernatorial victory in 1998. Other than that, they just play spoiler, and even in that sense their impact is fading. They hold zero seats in the legislature in this session, and I’m unaware of any legislative wins in recent elections, or at all.
Does this mean we will never have a true third party emerge? I wouldn’t assume that, not with dissatisfaction this high. But if it does, it may take a very long time before it has any real positive impact on politics, and it’s just as likely to be negative as positive.