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

Most Americans can barely picture how it would work to have more than two significant parties.

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.
REUTERS/Aaron Bernstein

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.” 

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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?