Both major parties are continuing their downward trajectory of popularity among American voters, according to new Gallup poll results released Monday:
In 2015, for the fifth consecutive year, at least four in 10 U.S. adults identified as political independents. The 42% identifying as independents in 2015 was down slightly from the record 43% in 2014. This elevated percentage of political independents leaves Democratic (29%) and Republican (26%) identification at or near recent low points, with the modest Democratic advantage roughly where it has been over the past five years.
This news is not surprising: The two parties are too outdated and redundant on many major issues to appeal to many Americans, and younger voters in particular are fed up with the Washington establishment.
In fact, Millennials are the most politically independent generation ever. Our skepticism of government is a big factor in our alleged lack of political engagement: It’s not that we’re apathetic; it’s that we don’t believe the bipartisan political establishment has our interests at heart.
But what is frustrating about reports like Monday’s poll is how little effect this rejection of the two parties has in practice: If Americans are so sick of the Democrats and Republicans, why haven’t we developed a truly multiparty system?
As I’ve argued before at Rare, the problem is that our electoral system is designed in a way that makes successful third parties essentially impossible. While many of the Founding Fathers opposed and feared the development of a two-party system, the government they made produces exactly that.
Because our elections generally follow the “winner takes all” method, third parties inevitably struggle to get the funding and name recognition to get into office. The hurdle is simply too high—and it’s unlikely to change any time soon thanks to the huge constitutional edits it would take to make third parties viable.
The good news, however, is that we don’t have to be stuck with the two parties as we know them now. Both have undergone significant realignment of their values in the years they’ve been around, and they can do it again.
Maybe if Americans continue to distance themselves from the Republican and Democratic establishments, party leadership will eventually take notice.