Line up 10 representative voters to gain insight into the continuing low level of affiliation with either of the two major political parties.
The resulting headcount is four voters identifying as independents, and three each aligning with the Democratic and Republican brands. Among those 35 years old and younger, independent identification consistently comprises fully half of this age group in polling.
Political estrangement from the Republican and Democratic parties shows no sign of abating among the public. Neither party’s establishment leadership appears prepared to adapt to this new era of voter alienation.
With independents characteristically more centrist than partisan loyalists, the shift by both parties toward increasingly extremist political identities and radical policy positions is proving unpopular.
Gallup’s annual poll last month underscores this prevalent attitude among independents – and even adherents of both parties.
A record-setting 61 percent now believe that a third major political party is needed. Barely a third, at 34 percent, think that the current major parties are sufficient.
The four-in-10 independents overwhelmingly support the creation of a third party, at 77 percent. Only 17 percent of independents take the view that the Democratic and Republican parties are adequate.
A majority of Democrats, notably, hold the same opinion, at 52 percent. A near majority of Republicans, at a 49 percent plurality, also agree.
Meanwhile, both parties are in functional disarray.
Republicans, enjoying the party’s strongest nationwide position since 1928, control both congressional assemblies and the White House, along with an extensive preponderance of state and local governments. Yet the party is plagued with infighting and a disruptor-in-chief with little allegiance to the party’s infrastructure, adherence to legacy policy positions, or inclination toward standard political conduct.
Democrats, still reeling from a decade of state-level defeats combined with losing both the national legislative and executive branches, continue to be riddled with internal dysfunction, lack of a coherent or compelling message, a national organization burdened with debt due lackluster fundraising, an atrophied network of party leadership, and intense battling over policy.
The GOP struggles to placate the far right while Democrats attempt to appease the extremist left, pushing both parties out of the mainstream. Each rushes to their respective outlier postures, primarily focused on rallying a shrinking core base of supporters, rather than appealing to a broader, and more moderate, electorate. Centrist independents, in particular, are reduced to wondering why neither party seems to care much about them.
As a result, the political polarization between parties has grown ever greater. Illustrating this race to the extremes is the Pew Research Center’s analysis that 95 percent of Republicans are more consistently conservative than the median Democrat, and 97 percent of Democrats are more consistently liberal than the median Republican – the largest dichotomy in two decades of tracking the rapidly accelerating split between parties.
One of the very few issues on which both Republicans and Democrats have shifted in tandem is cultural affinity and political support concerning LGBT issues. For the first time, strong majorities of both parties say homosexuality should be accepted. That stance encompasses 70 percent of all Americans and extends to all major demographics – including by sex, race, education and age. Likewise, 62 percent support same-sex marriage, a new high, and includes whites, Hispanics and, for the first time, a bare majority of blacks.
The historic dominance of the nation’s two parties, and the country’s winner-take-all electoral system, typically offers independents little incentive or practical option other than choosing between major party candidates. There has been only slight growth in those voting for candidates of a minor party.
The dual danger for Democrats and Republicans, however, is either more outsiders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders will pursue hostile takeover efforts or that the inevitable market-driven opportunity will prompt well-funded and popular alternative candidates to emerge and capture voter support.
If that happens the dual-party system may end up like the dinosaur – or, perhaps more aptly, the dodo.