U.S. Voters Increasingly Alienated by Two Major Parties
ATLANTA, 29 Feb (IPS) -
A new book shows there are now more U.S. voters who identify as independent than as Democrats or Republicans, despite the fact that the two major parties maintain their virtual stranglehold on U.S. politics and, so far, on the 2012 presidential election process.
In his book the "Apartisan American", Russell Dalton, a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, reviews survey trends like the American National Election Studies (ANES), which show the share of U.S. citizens who consider themselves independent has nearly doubled, from 23 percent in 1952 to 40 percent in 2008.
Most of the shift appears to be among people who considered themselves Democrats to those who now consider themselves independent.
"In the past, Independents used to (attract) people at the margins of politics, less educated, less interested, who wouldn't vote, people at the periphery," Dalton told IPS.
"What's changed from 20 percent to 40 percent is the growth among young, educated, politically engaged people who are turned off by political parties. They are interested in politics, and actually vote. They won't vote out of loyalty, but out of issues. That's what injected volatility into the [presidential] campaign," he said.
"The unpredictability of elections, and the willingness of people to shift parties has increased; that's the first whammy. The second whammy creates difficulties for candidates. They have their base that wants red meat party rhetoric to get them to vote. If they get their base to vote, they're still 15 percent short of a majority," Dalton added.
This trend is not limited to the U.S., but extends to all major Western democracies where long-term polling data is available, even in countries where it is easier for minor political parties to gain representation in the legislative branch.
While it is technically a political party, Dalton points to the rise of the Pirate Party in Germany and Sweden as evidence younger generations of citizens are eschewing uncritical party deference.
There are in fact a multitude of political parties in the U.S. other than the Democratic and Republican parties, although they differ in the level to which they have obtained ballot access in order to run candidates for various offices on the ballots in those states.
The Green Party, for example, is currently in the process of selecting its presidential nominee. Candidates include Roseanne Barr, Kent Mesplay, and Jill Stein.
Barr is a famous populist actress with significant name recognition for her television programme, "Roseanne", which featured a realistic, as opposed to a picture-perfect, portrayal of a working class family in the 1990s. Yet she entered the race late, does not have an organised campaign, and has not gained ballot access as widely as Mesplay or Stein.
Stein, on the other hand, appears to be the frontrunner for the Green nomination. Her campaign says it has won primary contests in Illinois, Maine, Minnesota and Ohio.
Because the Green Party has not obtained ballot access in every U.S. state, some of its primaries are conducted by other means.
"Illinois had an online Primary. Ohio had a statewide meeting. Maine is having
caucuses around the state," Scott McLarty, national spokesman for the Green Party, told IPS.
The Green Party was actually founded by Petra Kelly in Germany in the 1980s and first became popular in Europe, especially as an outgrowth of the anti-nuclear movement in Scandinavian countries.
The Green Party currently has gained ballot access in about 20 states and recently gained such access in Arkansas and Tennessee, McLarty said.
"Our goal is to get our nominees on at least 46 (out of 50) of the state ballots," he said.
With the Democratic Party in the U.S. having moved farther and farther toward the centre - even what in many countries would be considered centre-right - the distinctions between the Green and Democratic parties continue to grow.
"The most dramatic thing is the Democratic Party is addicted to corporate money, the donations from corporate PACs (political action committees)," McLarty said.
"The Green Party is against war in general, and we were very much against the invasion of Iraq and the Afghanistan war, and we often criticised the Democrats for helping [former president George W.] Bush get the U.S. into those wars," he said.
"Democrats have nuclear power... the (Barack) Obama administration has embraced the idea of clean coal and coal mining and is in favour of offshore drilling. The Green Party opposes those things. We are in favour of Medicare (guaranteed health care) for all," McLarty said.
While progress is quite slow, the Green Party has seen some gains in recent years. Richmond, California recently elected a Green mayor, Gayle McLaughlin; three
percent of Maine voters are registered as Green; and in the District of Columbia, the nation's capital, the Green Party is the second-largest party.
Meanwhile, the idea of independent and minor party candidates has become increasingly prominent in the national discourse surrounding the Nov. 6 presidential election.
For example, media pundits continue to speculate that Republican candidate Ron Paul may decide to run as an independent. While technically a Republican, Paul is basically a Libertarian; he opposes most U.S. military activities overseas and opposes the so-called "war on drugs," but also wants to end most welfare programmes and even many federal agencies.
Paul has denied any interest in running as an independent - and it is too late to get on ballots in many states as such - but has left the door open.
Yet there is another possibility for him or another candidate this year: a mysterious, well-funded group called Americans Elect is working to gain ballot access in all 50 states and is spending about 10 million dollars to do it.
"It's a bunch of liberal Republicans who won't abide with the Republican party," Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News and one of the nation's leading experts on ballot access, told IPS.
"I think people are afraid the Republican Party is going to nominate someone who is inadequate. They want someone high-quality, thoughtful, and intelligent in the race, other the president (Obama)," Winger said.
Possible Americans Elect candidates might include Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah; Buddy Roemer, former governor of Louisiana; and Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, all three of whom once considered themselves moderate Republicans. The group plans to hold an online
The Libertarian Party of the U.S. is likely to gain ballot access in all 50 states and to nominate Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, Winger said.
The Constitution Party of the U.S. is likely to gain ballot access in about 40 states, and former congressman Virgil Goode is seeking the nomination, Winger said.
There are also numerous national minor parties with little or no chance of gaining sufficient ballot access to run a presidential candidate, including five different socialist parties and the dwindling Prohibition Party, Winger said.
In addition, there are some state and local minor parties, such as the Independent Party, the Labor Party, the Peace and Freedom party, and the Working Families Party, which largely cross-endorses Democrats.
Winger says the quality of candidates seeking minor party nominations is increasing, and that the biggest obstacles to their success are the corporate media which will not let them participate in debates.