The nature of power is to hang on to it all costs. And that\’s what Republican and Democrat parties have done. The maze of rules and cost of getting on to the ballot in 50 different states is daunting to any potential third-party candidate for president – by design. And that is why, on the very rare occasion that someone has had the fortitude to take on the entrenched powers, they\’ve usually had very deep pockets, like the billionaire Ross Perot, who was the last third-party candidate. When he ran in 1992, Americans weren\’t very happy with the state of our politics. But looking back now, those days look like that once-popular TV show,
Happy Days. Twenty years ago, 58 per cent of the public was satisfied with how the country was being governed. Today, that number is only 24 per cent. So this year would seem to be the perfect time for a third-party candidacy a not-Romney and not-Obama choice especially if some of the obstacles could be removed. And that\’s precisely what has been attempted. A bold and innovative group, calling themselves Americans Elect, had a big idea: make it possible for anyone with basic qualifications to run for president by overcoming the hurdle of ballot access. They hired lawyers and signature gatherers, and set about getting themselves on to the ballot in all 50 states. And they created a secure technology platform that made it possible not only for anyone to run, but also for anyone who registered online to become a \”delegate\” to a virtual convention in June. There\’d be a series of votes and runoffs, before a final round to establish an Americans Elect ticket, with candidates for president and vice president. And the two would have to come from differing parties or ideologies. In effect, it was a Pop Idol of American politics. How potentially exciting and disruptive. Hundreds of thousands of people expressed initial interest. We imagined all those who might be interested in being president if they didn\’t have to go through a ridiculous primary process or spend $30 million to get on to the ballot: Colin Powell or Condi Rice, each a former secretary of state; the broadcaster Tom Brokaw; New York mayor Mike Bloomberg; Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz; former Utah governor Jon Huntsman But a funny thing happened on the way to the circus.
The deadline for candidates to qualify came up last week, but nobody much showed up. A former congressman and Louisiana governor, Buddy Roemer, led the list of declared candidates but failed to attract the 10,000 online votes required to meet the basic threshold. So, if everyone is so fed up with the two-party system what went wrong with this bold experiment? Some argue that it would have had a better chance in a contest without an incumbent president, as that means one side is too locked in. The technology that made it secure also made it difficult to vote. And perhaps too much personal information was demanded when people registered to join in. So, while Americans are still unhappy with the limited choice, it appears we\’re not yet ready to break up the political duopoly that\’s been running the show for ever. Yet Americans Elect has at least sown the seeds of possibility. And if America endures four more years of what we\’ve been seeing lately from our two parties, and things continue getting uglier between Obama and Romney campaigns, someone may have an even better idea. It\’s America after all. You\’d think we could come up with something new, every couple of hundred years. Mark McKinnon, a former Republican strategist who worked on the campaigns of George W Bush and John McCain, is Global Vice Chair of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Americans two major political parties are falling into disfavor. Americans are more likely now than at any other time in recent history to when asked to identify their political identification, with 43% instead now choosing the label independent.
Additionally, as seen in the accompanying graph, the average favorable rating given to the two major parties has been dropping over time. The average favorable rating in the last couple of years is as low as we have seen it in our Gallup history. The average used to be routinely above the 50% mark. In our most recent November poll it was at 39%, the same as the average over our last three surveys going back to 2013. Most obviously, these observable shifts reflect the basic fact that the government and Congress are in a very significant state of disrepute at the moment. We have reported much demonstration of this fact as it relates to the federal government, Congress and way government in general functions — as I ve discussed in some detail. The plausible hypothesis is that this dislike of Washington and the federal government now extends to a dislike of the two major political parties that control Washington and the federal government. This dislike increases the probability that an American who is asked by an interviewer to label themselves politically will eschew the major parties and choose the label independent — and decreases the probability that Americans will give either party a favorable rating. The decrease in the percentage of Americans choosing to label themselves as Republicans and Democrats represents a shift in the public s presentation of self. This is potentially important. How an individual wants to present him or herself and how they want others to see them are significant social indicators and can also be significant correlates of behavior. Several have noted that this phenomenon doesn t necessarily mean that voters are more likely to swing between partisan candidates during the course of a campaign. That may be so; perhaps when there are only two major party candidates on a ballot, voters see little reason to switch or consider switching from one party s candidate they don t like to another party s candidate they don t like.
Plus, we know that the majority of those who identify as independents indicate in response to further questioning that they lean toward one party or the other. But there has clearly been a shift in the way Americans view the two major parties overall, and one possible implication of their increased disdain could be that Americans may become less interested in voting, given that most candidates on the ballot for national offices are running on one of the two major party tickets. We did see a in the 2014 midterm elections, although it is impossible to determine exactly what caused that drop. in the 2012 presidential election was down from the 2004 and 2008 peaks, but no lower on a percentage basis than it has been in elections prior to that. However, if growing disenchantment with the two major parties and lack of viable alternatives to those parties on the ballot continue, it s possible that we could see turnout further decrease. One might also hypothesize that there would be a growing appetite for third party or independent candidates going forward, although that obviously has not materialized to date. At this point there are no independents in the 435 member House, and two out of the 100 senators (Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) are nominally independents, although both caucus with the Democrats. At the presidential level, the last consequential third-party candidate was Ross Perot in 1992 and to a lesser degree in 1996. Most generally, the data suggest that the two parties are weaker now than in the past as far as the perceptions of the average American are concerned, and therefore the two-party system is, in theory, subject to outside disruption and innovation — although changes in the political system move glacially. It s hard to change the basics of the two-party system when the two major parties are in control of the system.