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Americans losing faith in two-party system

This election year could be characterized as the year of the inspiration gap.

Mitt Romney and President Obama

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.