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Democrats and Republicans are both unpopular: Does something have to give?

REUTERS/Aaron Bernstein
CNN poll: 79 percent of Republicans said that President Trump was taking the party in the right direction, while 53 percent of Republicans said Republican congressional leaders were taking the party in the wrong direction.

Since at least the end of the Civil War, U.S. politics has been dominated by the same two Democratic and Republican parties. It’s been more than a hundred years since a presidential nominee outside the duopoly finished in the top two in a presidential election or a third party held a significant number of seats in Congress.

We’re so used to it that most Americans can barely picture how it would work to have more than two significant parties (although many other democracies around the world are quite accustomed to more than two parties).

Democrats right now are pretty excited about how successfully the Trump-McConnell-Ryan-led version of the Republicans are damaging their party’s brand. Here’s a CNN poll from late September showing that just 29 percent of the U.S. public had a favorable view of the GOP.

Among Republicans, Trump’s up, party’s down

And an interesting additional detail from that same poll: 79 percent of Republicans said that President Trump was taking the party in the right direction, while 53 percent of Republicans – yes, a majority – said Republican congressional leaders were taking the party in the wrong direction. Think about that for a minute. Personally, I think Trumpism is so incoherent that it’s hard to even call it a “direction.” 

Then think about this. About a month after that poll, another CNN poll found that just 37 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Democrats, a significant drop from the previous poll, in March, on the same question and the lowest number recorded on that question in any poll by several pollsters dating back to at least 1992 (and I suspect longer than that).

General public is negative about tax bill

To be sure, in that November poll, the Dems still scored better than the Repubs. And, as you have no doubt heard, the general public is very negative on the big tax bill that the Repubs are ramming through this week, in a vile process that insults the idea of a self-governing society.

So, yeah, Democrats feel pretty good heading toward the 2018 midterms. But put the two polls together and it seems that about a third of the electorate dislikes both parties.

I don’t know what it would take to break the grip of the duopoly. Our system, different from many others in the world, makes it hard to think outside of the only-two-choices-but-not-that-much-enthusiasm-for-either-one conundrum.

But does it seem that something has to give?

Comments (38)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/20/2017 - 09:52 am.

    Dude…. it “gave” already

    You may have noticed the results of the last presidential election?

    • Submitted by Mike Davidson on 12/25/2017 - 01:05 pm.

      Yeah it gave …

      You mean an election where once again the electoral college went against the popular vote? Yeah, it gave.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/20/2017 - 10:38 am.

    My 2¢

    I make no claims to expertise or special deep thoughts on this, but with that disclaimer as a starting point, my hope is that this current Gilded Age will soon come to an end. Should that come to pass, much of the public’s distrust of the national government (and to a degree, state government as well) may well dissipate. We currently have an especially egregious symbiotic relationship between government and People of Money, the latest blatant example being the execrable tax bill being pushed by the GOP, that is more than a little unhealthy for the rest of the populace, and, not incidentally, equally unhealthy for the very notion of “government by the people.” Policy, both foreign and domestic, is far too much under the direction of what more and more seems like an imperial government and a court of sycophants and hangers-on that often ignores party lines in favor of money and influence in roughly equal measure.

    If Lord Acton’s line about “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” still seems relevant, and I think it does, the corollary might easily be the same sentiment, but focused on wealth, particularly in situations like our current one, where wealth so obviously is connected to power, and vice-versa, one feeding off the other. Elizabeth Warren was quoted this morning as saying something like (I’m paraphrasing here), “This tax bill puts up a sign saying ‘Government for sale.’” As I’ve phrased it in other comments on related topics in recent months, “Them that has, gets. Them that don’t, don’t.” It’s a catch phrase that “them that has” probably think of as a nice summary of how the world works, and is supposed to work, but it’s antithetical to democracy in virtually any form, and equally damaging to the foundational concept of justice, whether economic, legal, social, or what-have-you.

    Historically, the wealthy are usually pretty well insulated from everyday concerns, and even from revolution. The poor generally have nothing to lose by active rebellion. What holds most societies together, whether they’re democratic or authoritarian, is a functioning middle class. When that middle class begins to fracture into fragments, some of which are successful while others are not, social conflict is almost always the result. Trump was elected by people who either hope to gain from his particular brand of nativist propaganda, or, paradoxically, who are justifiably resentful that they’ve been at least economically left behind by the social and economic changes of the last generation. I think that tolerance for greed and corruption may not continue, as people see through the Current Occupant’s lies and misrepresentations, but tossing the Current Occupant out of office, or turning the increasingly corrupt GOP out of power doesn’t end the problem of a supposedly-democratic government being dominated by People of Money. There are also wealthy Democrats who don’t mind influencing policy in the same way as Republicans, when they have the opportunity.

    Historically, it’s the sort of conflict that has ended up in the streets, with blood being shed. I’d prefer that we find a way to avoid that, but I’m an old man, slow of foot, probably susceptible to tear gas, and unable to move quickly enough to dodge rubber (or lead) bullets. I may be speaking more from a desire for self-preservation than anything else.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/20/2017 - 01:08 pm.

    Per Gallup, 25% identify themselves as a Republican and 30% identify as Democrat.

    So 29% approve of the Republican party and 37% approve of the Democrats–just slightly more than identify themselves via a particular party.

    The take-away being that the middle 1/3 who don’t identify with either of the party really don’t like the parties as a vague whole, and that 2/3 of the people who identify with a party and presumably like it as it is will not be the impetus for outreach to the middle 1/3.

    By the way, on the tax bill that was just rushed through without a hearing, Trump probably won’t sign it until the new year–that way the associated MANDATORY Medicare cuts can be deferred to 2019.

    How are ya gonna cut taxes without cutting services…did you think there really was a free lunch? Starve the beast, cut the expenditures…

  4. Submitted by tom kendrick on 12/20/2017 - 01:10 pm.

    It amazes me

    That a party somewhere between the Dems and Repubs does not appear on the scene. How can the Repubs think they’re moving forward when they pass legislation strictly along party lines? When the Dems regain control, will they do the same thing? How can anyone pass legislation that is unpopular with the majority of people and call it leadership? That’s just bullying, and we discourage that with our kids. Why should it fly in government? We need to find a party that can actually pull us all together.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/20/2017 - 05:56 pm.

      Will never happen

      There isn’t a party that will pull us together, because people have very different ideas about lots of things. There isn’t a consensus on many of the issues that separate the two parties. The Republicans have done a lot of unpopular things and will get punished at the polls. And, yes, when the Democrats are back in power, they will do the same thing.

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/20/2017 - 01:46 pm.

    Give ’til it Hurts

    It’s worth noting the history of successful insurgent parties in this country. The Republicans replaced the Whigs when slavery became an important issue. George Wallace (who technically ran as a third-party candidate, but whose candidacy was more a personality-driven effort) won electoral votes running as an “anti” candidate on civil rights. Does it take a national upheaval to change things?

    Lately, third-parties have failed because they aren’t really much of anything. The Reform Party tried to base its appeal on being neither Republicans nor Democrats. That’s a good start; in fact, it’s pretty much a given for any third or other party. Then what? Where does it go from there? The Greens suffer from the same malady–there is no consistency in their stands.

    A successful party has to be built from the ground up Never mind running candidates for President or the Senate, at least for a few years. Get your members on the city council, the school board, in the state legislature. Start by building a base. Going from the top down may generate headlines, but it won’t change anything in the long-run.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/20/2017 - 10:42 pm.

      The problem is that local elections don’t generate publicity which is needed to generate money which is needed for national elections..

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/21/2017 - 09:39 am.

        Keepin’ it Local

        Local elections build a base of real support. They create future office holders, and are also ways of bringing in the many volunteers needed to build a real movement. Getting publicity may attract a few big donors, but ultimately, it does nothing towards party building.

        A good example is how the evangelical right took over the Republican Party and became such an influence in national politics. They started local, especially at the school board level. People became experienced in running campaigns and getting a message across, and there was an identified mass of people receptive to the message. It didn’t happen overnight, but happen, it did.

        As the saying goes, “Plodding, plodding is my pace/Slow and steady wins the race.”

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/21/2017 - 10:26 pm.

          But people in your example did not create a new party – they influenced one of the two major ones. Creating a new party would be totally different – no structure, no money, no connections… Plus, where will they get ideas? They will have to take them from someone else because it’s hard now to come up with something fresh in which case they will be closer to one of two parties one way or another and will be absorbed (like Sanders’ left are still part of a Democratic Party). Do you want to join my party of one – a common sense party?

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/22/2017 - 09:22 am.

            “Time makes more converts than reason.”

            That’s true. The evangelical take over of the Republican Party was not a formal creation of a new party. It did, however, change its entire orientation. For example, the party that was the first to endorse a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equal rights under the law now regards the ERA as if it were a rabid muskrat. It’s not your parents’ Republican Party any more (in my case, literally–my parents always voted Republican, but stopped donating money or volunteering in the early 80s when, as my Mother put it, the “born agains took over everything.”).

            A third-party candidacy for a high office–Governor, Senator, President–makes sense only as a way of making a statement. Often, it is ego-driven (hello, Governor Ventura!). In the end, even if the candidacy is successful, it changes nothing.

            I am flattered that you think I would be interested in common sense.

            • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/28/2017 - 09:05 pm.

              “In the end, even if the candidacy is successful, it changes nothing.” We are doomed…

              “I am flattered that you think I would be interested in common sense.” You still didn’t say if you agree 🙂 Anyway, ideally, parties should not matter if people follow common sense, use critical thinking, and base their opinions on facts and logic… Why does it matter where a good idea or solution came from?

  6. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/20/2017 - 01:55 pm.

    more polls…..?

    You would think the “resistance” will eventually” give in” to the constant running of the same old, rehashed, anti-trump rhetoric after a while.

    I think the last evidence of the “resistance” losing speed is the quoting of “fake polls” in order to glean some measure of comfort.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/20/2017 - 02:47 pm.

      While it may be snowing outside, let’s not be snowflakes ourselves and melt down due to the printing of and commenting on surveys that have been taken at regular intervals over the past decades.

      We get it, Trump must be defended against facts and trends.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/20/2017 - 05:58 pm.

      Fake polls?

      Not sure why you think the polls are fake. The Democrats just elected a guy in Alabama. Granted, the Republican was a pedophile, but that’s still a big deal. There’s a reason so many Republicans are retiring.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/20/2017 - 02:13 pm.


    Both parliamentary systems and ours are based on building coalitions. The difference is that our coalitions are built within the framework of our political parties, while in most of the rest of the developed world the coalitions are built up of separate established parties.
    This does make it easier in parliamentary systems to start up a small party and become a kingmaker in a coalition.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/20/2017 - 02:16 pm.

    Trump’s popularity

    is based on his ability to present impossible solutions based on mutually incompatible events, leaving the political parties (in this case mostly Republicans) to make the specific proposals which being specific, are more likely to include the costs and thus are less popular.
    Trump is a projective test — people (at least too many of them) see in him what they want to see.

  9. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 12/20/2017 - 02:36 pm.

    Right now, a lot of misinformed people are relating the tax cut to the $2500 Obama promised everyone would save with Obama care. And many feckless Dem pols are fueling that misconception by claiming it’s an apocalypse(!); middle class taxes are going to go up.

    Let’s see what the polls say after people realize their taxes really did go down.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/20/2017 - 05:51 pm.

      Here is the thing

      You can actually figure out who is going to get tax cuts and how much. And the middle class are going to see their taxes either go up, or very minimally go down. People who think otherwise are indeed badly, badly misinformed. Part of the problem are people like Paul Ryan, who is talking about the *average” tax cut, which reflects huge cuts for the wealthiest, and minimal cuts or even increases for most people. I’m actually impressed that most of the public sees through that kind of nonsense. When the tax bills actually hit – the rest will catch on.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 12/26/2017 - 09:03 am.

        I have read differing accounts of how much we will save from several credible sources, but no one with a shred of credibility is saying the middle class will pay more. People who say otherwise are just flat out in denial.

        The top income earners will save the most, because they pay the most; it’s just that simple.

        People are going to see larger paychecks, and they are going to like it.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 12/28/2017 - 09:38 am.

          Have your

          Credible sources, looked at the end game for taxes in high tax states with the new SALT limitations? And their conclusion is? You just increased the debt $1.5 T, there is interest on the debt. It now cost more money to run the Government, guess folks are going to like that too. According to “Time” not even a fake news source according to “T”
          Median American income is ~ $59,039 per year. Effective tax break will be ~ $13.62 a week, total ~ $708 a year, a far far cry from the $2000 average. The interest on the $1.5 T additional debt @ 2% is $30 B a year which is ~ $245 per tax payer, meaning the $708 a year is costing you ~ $245 and we can go on to the compound interest, looks pretty fiscally irresponsible from this perspective. But hey “T” is notorious for stiffing people on the bill!

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/20/2017 - 07:09 pm.

      or maybe wait

      until their insurance premiums go up when healthy people drop out of ACA policies. And someone will have to pay for the increased ER costs when people go back to get their medical care ‘for free’.
      Or the roads start breaking down because of delayed maintenance.
      When you cut revenue, you have to cut services (or increase debt, which the GOP has sworn not to do).
      Yes, some middle class federal income taxes will go down at first, but payment will come due.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 12/26/2017 - 08:54 am.

        Insurance premiums are going to rise, no matter what. The last President promised $2500 rebates, remember? In other words he lied, directly to our faces with malice of forethought…how much more outraged can people get? ER visits were almost completely unaffected by Obamacare. People getting subsidized junk policies cannot afford the deductibles; just as foretold.

        If the roads start breaking down, who do you think people are going to blame first; the feds, or the light rail/bike trail coalition that has been vacuuming up the lions share of “transportation” funding?

        When people see their paychecks rise next year, do you really think they’re going to get upset?

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/20/2017 - 04:34 pm.

    Tale from the great recession…

    The Obama tax cut of 2010 had a $400 credit per worker and a reduction of payroll taxes that added 2% to a worker’s take-home income.

    Much more than what Trump tax trickery does.

    But it was said to be imperceptible because it wasn’t a single lump of money but distributed throughout the year in each paycheck.

    Conservatives poo-poohed it as insignificant, wasted money and running up the debt.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 12/21/2017 - 11:22 am.

      Working folks took a beating during

      Obama’s 8 years. More folks had to go to welfare and more folks quit looking for employment than at any other time in our history. Obamacare hurt working folks (remember each family keeping their Doc and saving $2,500) and just expanded Medicaid. The Dem talking points, your life is better after 8 years of Obama rang hollow with regular folks, only persuaded die hard liberals to repeat the the points which turned off working folks by the millions and elected Trump!

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/21/2017 - 02:15 pm.

        Does this Have to be Said Againn?

        “[W]hich turned off working folks by the millions and elected Trump!”

        Trump was elected by dint of the constitutional oddity known as the Electoral College. Millions more Americans wanted Hilary Clinton to be President.

        Fun fact, regarding the Trumpian insurgency: Opinion polls consistently put his approval rating at around 32%. President Nixon did not reach that level until August of 1973, when the Watergate hearings were getting underway.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/21/2017 - 03:15 pm.

        Gosh, you would think Obama was the President that led us into the great recession instead the of the President that lead 8 years of recovery and growth.

        As for “regular people”…almost a decade of rising and record profits for corporations and the 1% and flat incomes for everyone else—your “regular people” answer ? Cut taxes on corporations and 1%–after all, it didn’t work before but it will work now !!

        Smart !!

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/23/2017 - 11:33 am.

        Are presidents at fault when more people have to go on unemployment or SNAP?

        Or is it the fault of the penny-wise and pound-foolish business executives who think that getting by with as few employees as possible and paying them as little as possible is the road to success?

        If so, the executives of today must be dumber than those of fifty and sixty years ago, who ran fully staffed companies with well-paid American employees and yet maintained profitability.

        But then, most employers of fifty and sixty years ago were not handicapped by having gone through the business major/MBA indoctrination program of learning to treat the shareholders as absolute gods and learning to think only in terms of quarterly profits, no matter who (other than the shareholders, of course) gets hurt.

  11. Submitted by joe smith on 12/20/2017 - 08:19 pm.

    Both the GOP and Dems have done damage to

    themselves for the past 45 years since Nixon got caught up in Watergate. Lying to the voters used to have consequences, you were voted out, now it is accepted behavior. Regular folks don’t trust politicians at all, yet the politicians demand more of your paycheck with increases in property taxes, higher gas taxes, taxes on cigarettes, booze and every other little item they can tax. Neither party will talk about the projected 10 Trillion more being added to our National debt by over spending on the budget the next 10 years. That is happening even with record high amounts of hard earned tax dollars being sent to DC every year. Dems however will howl about the new tax law adding 1.5 Trillion over that same 10 year period. Hypocrisy, dishonesty, wasting tax payer money has turned off 70% of Americans. Who can blame them?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/21/2017 - 11:33 pm.


      Based on the comments I have received, I certainly know that I am in the minority…

      I would have preferred if the tax bill had not been passed and that the GOP would instead have focused on cutting Federal government spending, programs and services until we were running a surplus again.

      And we really should be increasing the payroll tax rate (ie premiums) and/or cutting SS, SSD and Medicare (ie benefits) until they are balanced. No other pension or insurance plan is allowed to be that unbalanced.

      And yet it seems that one thing both the Left and Right can agree on is that they are okay letting the current voters live large, while passing additional debt and other obligations on to our children and grand children.

      We are in probably nearing the end of a long up cycle during which we should be paying down debt in preparation for the next recession, and here we are still adding to the debt. How did American’s get so irresponsible and self centered?

      Maybe it is that old saying… When people learn they can vote themselves money… It foreshadows the end of the republic…

  12. Submitted by Curt Carlson on 12/20/2017 - 08:33 pm.

    Party identity

    Be careful of what you read into polls about party identity or popularity. Even before the recent railroading of Al Franken by loyal Democrats, I hesitated to support the party, reserving my financial and moral support for individuals who might warrant it. If any one were to ask me now about my opinion of the Democratic party, or Democrats as a class, I would be hard put to withhold my disdain for such party stalwarts as Rebecca Otto and Kirsten Gillibrand who, dispensing with notions of due process and proportionality, impulsively called for the head of one of their best champions in the Senate. That a failed Republican like Arne Carlson should present the most cogent argument for restraint in this matter says nothing for the integrity and judgment of establishment Democrats. Needless to say, my response to a poll about party preference would not favor the Democrats, and I suspect I am not alone.

  13. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 12/21/2017 - 08:46 am.

    Arne Carlson

    Arne may have “failed” at being a Republican, but he was a very successful Governor,

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