Is a new major party now inevitable?

American politics is in system failure. In a democratic republic, the definition of system failure is when a clear public consensus emerges that we the people are being ruled, not represented. Current conditions fit that definition.

The latest polling by The Associated Press shows nearly all Americans now believe that neither major political party represents the views of your average voter. A mere 14% say the Democratic Party is responsive to the voters while just 8% say the same about the Republicans.

An overwhelming majority of voters told AP in no uncertain terms that neither party is receptive to fresh perspectives. Only 17% of the public say the Democratic Party is open to new ideas for dealing with the country’s problems, and a meager 10% say that about the Republican Party.

A whopping 90% of voters lack confidence in the country’s political system while upwards of half go so far as to say that the two-party structure is “seriously broken.” Seventy percent of voters, including equal proportions of Democrats and Republicans, admit to feeling frustrated about the 2016 presidential election and 55% say they feel “helpless.”

The AP is hardly alone in finding evidence of boiling public discontent with the major parties and ruling class. Pew Research Center found most Americans believe elected officials from both parties don’t care what we think, are out of touch, bought off, and put their own interests ahead of the country’s. Princeton University researchers provided a jolting explanation for why everyday Americans have good reason for feeling this way, with a study showing that public opinion has “near-zero” impact on what Congress does.

Pew has been surveying American public opinion for three-quarters of a century and has never before found such alienation from the two major parties as its polls are detecting right now. And according to Gallup polling, close to 60% of Americans want a new major party to emerge because they feel the Republican and Democratic parties do such a poor job of representing them.

All of these findings are akin to tremors that foreshadow a coming earthquake. Seismic events have been rare in American politics. Never in our lifetimes has a major party splintered and disintegrated. Never in living memory has a new major party taken shape and seriously threatened the ruling parties. But it has happened before. On multiple occasions, as a matter of fact. The birth of the Republican Party coincided with the death of the Whig Party as the country wrestled with the evil institution of slavery. The Progressive movement produced major political upheaval in the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th Century, causing massive fractures within the major parties at the time and ultimately transforming both of them.

For the first time in a very long time, the signs are again unmistakable. You can feel the tremors. America is on the brink of the political equivalent of an earthquake. The landscape is going to be dramatically altered. No one has a crystal ball capable of showing us exactly when the quake will hit or where the largest chasms will open. But what is clear is that the conditions are ripe for the emergence of a new major party. Chances are the majority of Americans will get their wish soon enough.

Mike McCabe