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There is a lingering idea that the two major American political parties – Democrats and Republicans – are too far apart ideologically and that another group should fill the void.
Several prominent politicians and future politicians are again launching an effort to create a third major party, simply called “Forward”.
There is a major problem with these efforts, and this is probably why past efforts by third-party intermediaries have failed in the recent past: they are based on a false assumption that “independent” voters actually exist.
To be clear, most Americans are fed up with what’s happening in Washington, DC. As the founders of Forward note, 80% of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. But, there are probably hundreds of reasons — many of them contradictory — why Americans feel this way.
Many people who are fed up with Democrats believe that President Joe Biden and many Democratic members of Congress are too moderate, or at least not aggressive enough to advance their agenda, even in the face of Republican opposition. These people want to act against climate change. They want women’s bodily autonomy to be protected. Some want higher wages and better paid vacation policies. Some want universal health care. By the way, these things are generally popular with most Americans, regardless of political affiliation. I should also note that Maine has made progress on many of these issues with Democrats in charge in Augusta and Democrats in Congress have lobbied unsuccessfully on many of these things as well.
These voters are not looking for Democrats to be more “in the middle.”
Similarly, some conservatives believe the Republican Party is too moderate. They want lower taxes and a border wall. Some want a nationwide ban on abortion and same-sex marriage to be illegal. (To be fair, that’s what the National GOP Platform says, but they haven’t turned it into reality yet). Some are even ready for armed conflict if their priorities are not met.
These people are not likely to make common cause with disenfranchised Democrats who feel their party is too timid.
Yet those who register to vote as “independents” or unregistered make up the largest voting bloc in the United States, and their numbers have been growing steadily. Unregistered voters have outnumbered registered Democrats and Republicans in Maine for years, but Democrats currently have the edge over registered voters.
So what does it mean to be “independent”? This does not necessarily mean that a voter is in the middle of the road and not aligned with any major party. Studies have found that three-quarters of independent voters are aligned with the Republican or Democratic Party, which partly explains why despite a plethora of independent candidates, party candidates are generally the winners of elections.
But, given the negative connotations associated with the two parties — and their heightened bickering — voters don’t want to acknowledge their partisan leanings.
“They’re not actually changing their views on politics,” Samara Klar, a political scientist at the University of Arizona and co-author of the book “Independent Politics,” told FiveThirtyEight last year. “[Independents] simply recuse themselves from publicly identifying themselves as supporters.
It’s not what voters call themselves that’s the problem with our politics. It’s about a whole host of things, many of them, like campaign finance and redistricting, that the Supreme Court has made harder to solve.
It is the huge amount of money spent by powerful individuals and interest groups to influence elections. It’s the time candidates spend and the contortions they go through to get some of that money.
That includes the filibuster, which Republicans — currently the minority party in the U.S. Senate — have used to stop action on a host of important issues in recent years.
This is partisan gerrymandering, which has allowed parties to shape constituencies to their advantage.
There is a new threat, a consequence of former President Donald Trump’s persistent lies that he won the 2020 election: attempts to install hyperpartisan positions, such as election secretaries and secretaries of State, which controls the elections. Several deniers of the 2020 election results won the primaries earlier this week.
And, there is the growing nastiness of politics in general. A small subset of voters are increasingly hostile toward politicians and policies they dislike. They do not hesitate to harass and threaten officials. This probably discourages qualified and innovative people from running for office at a time when we need new ideas and new energy.
This list is not exhaustive, but it does show where reformers should focus their attention if they want to change our national political climate. Creating a third party is not the solution.