The latest Gallup poll reflects what any astute observer of the presidential race has long suspected: the American public has rejected the political status quo. Far more Americans identify as politically independent than as a partisan while party identification has hit record lows.
The percentage of people who identify as “independent” first hit the 40% mark in 2011 and now stands at 42%. Party identification is notably lower, with 29% identifying as Democrat and 26% identifying as Republican — a record low for Democrats and almost a record for Republicans, who hit their all-time low with 25%.
Gallup writes that “the rise in political independence is likely related to Americans’ frustration with party gridlock in the federal government.” They go on to explain, “In the past several years, dissatisfaction with the government has ranked among the leading issues when U.S. adults are asked to name the most important problem facing the U.S., and was the most frequently mentioned problem in 2014 and 2015.”
But it’s not merely gridlock which in many cases can be preferable to any partisan “solution” placed on the political table. Quite simply, the Democrat and Republican political status quo does not represent the American people any longer.
On the left, this is clear with the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Sanders is running to the left of Hillary Clinton and he is running on a very progressive platform. The latest numbers for the Democrat horserace has Sanders trailing Hillary by a mere 4%. Clinton, former first lady and wife to the popular ex-president Bill Clinton, not to mention a former secretary of State, is barely beating a socialist senator from Vermont.
The situation is even more extreme for the Republicans: among the top six candidates (Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Jeb, and Christie), the outsiders Trump (34%), Cruz (18%), and Carson (8%) carry 60% of the GOP/GOP primary vote. The three candidates identified with the established status quo (Rubio 9%, Christie 4% and Jeb 4%) carry 17% of the vote. That is incredible: the outsiders have three times the support as the establishment candidates.
Gallup reports that “given that 2016 is a presidential election year, and the percentage of independents usually declines in years when Americans are choosing a president, both parties have an opportunity to win back some of their lost support.”
However we aren’t seeing a decline in independents so far this year and political parties are more unpopular than ever. Whoever wins the presidency in 2016, the biggest loser is the state of our current political party system.