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Americans losing faith in two-party system

Mitt Romney and President Obama
REUTERS
Pew's poll of registered voters found that only 56 percent are "very or fairly satisfied with the presidential candidates this year."

The frustration of 2012 voters was beautifully captured in a bumper sticker I saw recently that read: Never Re-elect Anyone.

The person who plastered that slogan on the back of a car may be fantasizing about a sweeping political burn, which would be akin to a massive forest fire that clears out the old and ushers in new growth.

Americans are suffering from fatigue caused by years of a lukewarm economy and they are aggravated by dysfunction in the political system.

An election year should generate optimism and excitement. It's a time in which voters get to choose their leaders, who have the power to support policies that will create a better future for Americans.

But 2012 could be characterized as the year of the inspiration gap.

Many economic and social problems are increasingly complex and the best minds should be enlisted to address them. Yet Americans are losing faith in the two-party political system, because it is producing too many elected officials who make partisan speeches instead of leading. Congress is Exhibit A in showcasing this political malady.


In a national poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans surveyed agreed "that there should be a third major political party in addition to the Democrats and Republicans."

It's another piece of mounting evidence that many voters are alienated by what the two major political parties are serving up as solutions and candidates.

The fragile condition of the U.S. economy affects virtually everybody, so the 2012 stakes are high in the presidential, congressional and statewide contests.

Yet, at the top of the ballot, the presidential race, Pew's poll of registered voters found that only 56 percent are "very or fairly satisfied with the presidential candidates this year."

Among independent voters, only 43 percent expressed satisfaction with the choice between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

While hard-core Republicans and Democrats look askance at independents and moderates, they often are the people who decide elections.

Many independent voters ideally would like to choose between two qualified and strong candidates in November.

However, the time-consuming nominating process for presidential candidates -- and other partisan offices -- makes it difficult for independents and party-affiliated voters to take part in the screening. States, like Minnesota, that have caucuses have much lower participation rates in the candidate screening process than primary
states.

Despite considerable disaffection with how the Republican and Democratic parties are functioning in the United States, the creation of a third "major" political party is unlikely to occur.

So Americans need to push for ways to reinvigorate the Democratic and Republican parties. Both parties would be more representative if vastly more people were involved in the nominating process.

In Minnesota, 2,910,369 votes were cast for president in the November 2008 election.

However, this year, only 66,292 Minnesotans bothered to cast presidential preference ballots during the February GOP and DFL precinct caucuses. A presidential primary would allow a broader base of Minnesotans to take part in the candidate selection process.

If the number of people casting ballots in the nominating process expanded dramatically, litmus tests on hot-button issues would be harder to administer.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush complained recently that the Republican Party has become so narrowly defined and partisan that he questioned whether his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and former President Ronald Reagan could win support in today's party.

If the base of political parties could be widened, then more candidates all along the political spectrum likely would come forward.

A June poll conducted by Gallup showed that 39 percent of those polled viewed themselves as independents, while the Republicans and Democrats each attracted 30 percent.

On November ballots, independents frequently cast the decisive ballots to determine who becomes the next president or governor. But many independents, who often lean toward the Democratic or Republican parties, are missing in action when the party candidates are chosen.

It's time to bring big-tent politics to life in American politics. But party reforms won't happen unless moderates and independents show up in droves and engage with the current political party apparatus. If the people in the middle want to see more candidates on the ballot who mirror their views, they'll have to seize their share of power in the Republican and Democratic parties.

Fedor can be reached at lfedor@minnpost.com.

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Comments (8)

No evidence for Premise

"Yet Americans are losing faith in the two-party political system"

There is no evidence for this. The Pew poll you site actually shows the support for a third party slightly lower than is was in 1996 and with no discernible trend.

In general, Americans have never had much "faith" in the two-party system. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority identify themselves as members of one or the other party. And most of those that don't have a strong preference in voting for one of the parties even if they don't identify themselves as such.

Its the chattering class that has suddenly discovered new flaws in the current parties, most of the rest of us have always understood them.

Meaning no disrespect,

There is so much wrong with this article, it makes one's head spin. Indeed and obviously, folks have lost faith in the "two-party system," and rightly so. This article just recites every trite, non-reflective and non-sensical conventional wisdom about a solution lying in the mythical "middle." The two-party system has failed because both parties have been fully captured by a very narrow set of interests with the wealth and power to make the system, its politicians, its bureaucrats and its media work for them. The solution does not lie in the middle of this corrupt morass, it lies wholly outside the narrow frame that is carefully constructed and maintained. It is this narrow frame, bounded by Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other, that compels the wholly unimaginative to believe that any solution must lie somewhere in between, where the interests that drive the system remain wholly and conveniently protected. In the short term, pragmatic (but obvious) "lesser evil" decisions must be made. In the long term (if there is one, at this point), the only solution is a critically thinking and engaged population, participating in good faith in deciding what is needed to build and keep a decent a society, against whom billions of dollars of propaganda would be wholly ineffectual. In other words, democracy. There is indeed one truism that is true: We get the government we deserve. Enjoy your celebrity news and your potato chips, everyone.

Two parties, but no party

It's impossible to fool oneself into thinking that the parties are more concerned about the citizens of the nation than they are about their corporate sponsors and assumption of power. As congress recieves it's raise and cost of living increase and it's wonderful healthcare, and millions in campaign donations, "fees" keep rising out here in the real world where there is no cost of living increase, no raise and no wonderful healthcare. Additionally, seeing years worth of wages flushed in the name of negative campaign ads on television indicates that the problems we face are as much psychological as they are economic. Things are not getting better, and we all know it.

Perfect example of the problem

This article was disappointing in every possible way, except as a perfect example of the actual problem. The author repeatedly stated how voters were disappointed with (1) the two-party system and (2) the candidates produced by those two "major" parties, and then immediately repeated the mantra that the only possible solution is to reinforce the two-party system by holding your nose and joining one of those parties.

It is telling that this article comes in the "Business" section, and then proceeds to tell its readers that they must choose between two corporate-backed parties and their bought-and-paid-for candidates. It follows the usual formula of painting the two-party candidates as a "choice", when really they're just two sides of the same campaign contribution. Both parties are taking contributions from corporations and PACs, and encouraging unlimited independent expenditures on their behalf by similarly-backed organizations. Both parties argue over who will best continue funding for the defense industry using a foreign policy based on war and nuclear threats. Both parties compete to be perceived by the private prison industry as the most aggressive prosecutor of the racist "war on drugs". Both parties continue to champion health, energy and environmental policies that channel billions of dollars back to their corporate sponsors.

Voters are tired of the "two-party system" because it has become a tool of rich corporate stakeholders, used to present a false "choice" to voters each election, and frighten them into voting for a "lesser evil" so that the "greater evil" does not prevail. Voters are tired of the "two-party system" because it rewards the candidates that are best at courting and servicing corporate donors. Voters are tired of the "two-party system" because it always focuses on philosophical differences around the implementation of bad public policy.

And unfortunately when most journalists have an opportunity to call attention to this problem, rather than challenge the status quo they continually reinforce it. When third party presidential candidates come to town, they are consciously hidden behind a media blackout. When presidential polls are fielded, third party candidates are almost never included, and then the resulting "lack of support in the polls" is used to justify their exclusion from public debates where they could actually promote substantive discussions on smart public policy.

There are two candidates for long-established political parties that at least deserve a mention in an article about the failings of the two-party system. Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, will both be on the ballot in most states, and both are offering voters a real choice for ideas and policies that aren't manufactured by banks, insurance companies, drug companies or oil companies. The Green Party's Jill Stein is a shining example of a true grass-roots campaign, fighting for ballot access in every state against oppressive legislative hurdles, and rejecting any contribution from corporations or PACs, choosing to run a campaign funded solely by small individual donors and matching public funding. She offers substantive policy options on today's greatest challenges, and is travelling in person to every state to circumvent the media blackout and talk directly to voters to get her message out.

I have long valued MinnPost as one of the best local sources of true journalism and investigative reporting. That makes it even more disappointing that you would publish what is basically an editorial promoting a corrupt two-party system over the open electoral process that was originally envisioned by the authors of our constitution. I hope you'll consider going back and doing some research on the other two presidential candidates that will be on the ballot in practically every state, and then writing a serious article that actually paints a true picture of the battle being waged by third-party candidates to bring real solutions into public debates. And if you personally want to help change start to happen, go to a third party candidate's website and make a contribution to help them achieve matching public funding and show that we can fight back against corporate control of our political system. If you're not sure where to start, try Jill Stein (http://jillstein.org) or Gary Johnson.

Two-Party System

It's a pickle, all right. People trying to break away from the two-party system often throw their votes away on vanity candidates like Ralph Nader or Ross Perot to "make a point" -- unfortunately, the completely overlook the HUGE point that none of these candidates will get enough votes to win, and one of the two major-party candidates WILL be the one to appoint new supreme court justices. Is making a point now worth another Clarence Thomas on the Court?

The Supreme Court's Citizens United Decision

The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision turned a one-vote system into a two-vote system for some. They vote with their unlimited money and then again in November. Which vote do you suspect will have the most impact? The vote goes a long way to taking the control of our system out of the hands of everyday citizens and puts it into the hands of the wealthy. Why wouldn't this cause people to lose faith? We have the perfect set of political zealots in office across our land that have taken a stand to never negotiate. Why wouldn't this cause people to lose faith? The next election starts the minute the last election has been decided. No time to do the work of the people, too busy campaigning. Why wouldn't this cause people to lose faith? Lifetime politicians have frequently been proven to be devious, of poor moral character, and speak without facts (outright liars). Why wouldn't this cause people to lose faith? Congress has voted itself perks far beyond the average citizen. Why wouldn't this cause people to lose faith?

Wow, what a set of comments.

I have no complaints and nothing to add, sheesh.

I agree with this article

I am 68 years old and am a political science graduate. I do believe that most people would agree that big money has bought both parties.

As a direct result of big money owning both parties, I think that big money buys a pass when it comes to criminal behavior. I am particularly concerned by the lack of criminal law enforcement in the financial sector. The average American household has lost 40% of its net worth as the result of criminal behavior in the financial sector. Since both parties rely on the financial sector for contributions, neither party will discuss the issue of financial sector criminal activity. Per the NY Times, the Department of Justice called the FBI off the case of pursuing criminal behavior during the mortgage crisis. Both Bush and Obama were complicit.

See the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/14/business/14prosecute.html?_r=2&pagewan...