Since the middle of the last decade, about half of the American voters would like there to be a third party to contest the dominance of the Republican and Democratic parties. However, in a poll released by Gallup on Monday, an interesting change in attitudes has occurred.
The polling data examines people’s opinions on this matter by party identification and by ideology. Typically, this poll finds that independents strongly favor a third party, while a majority of both Democrats and Republicans are opposed. In this most recent survey, though, a majority of Republicans (52%) now also support a new party to challenge the hegemony. Given the recent victories by Republicans in Congress and in the states, why would this occur?
What leads to this is that 60% of Tea Party supporters favor a new choice. Presumably, they are upset that the change that they voted for a little more than 6 months ago has not yet resulted in any empirical change that they hoped for or that they are not pleased with the changes that have occurred thus far. Since these members of the party were by far the most energized in the last election, this could actually lead to a reduction in Republican voter turnout in next year’s election.
Meanwhile, in the last year, the percentage of Independents and Democrats in support of a third party has decreased substantially. Generally, the political party in control of the presidency is much less supportive of a third party than is the other. It’s hard to figure out why the percentage of Independents has decreased unless they suddenly find themselves aligned more with the Democrats.
Every year, I always find this poll very enjoyable. But what it actually measures is which people are the most upset with the political system, and feel that the system doesn’t represent their own attitudes. But we will never have a third party, along with the other Democrats and the Republicans. This is primarily because of the Electoral College system of winner-take-all within individual states. Also, in modern times, federal funding is virtually guaranteed to the two major parties, while any third party would have to meet some kind of proof of popularity level before they could similarly get government subsidies. Finally, the media tends to align itself on a partisan basis. Neither the liberal nor the conservative media outlets are likely to give up their access to political elites.
So, could a third party supplant one of the other two? Well, Tea Party adherents are actually attempting to take over the Republican Party. Can they succeed? Both parties are dominated by those groups that provide funding. Until these major funders turn away from the party elites, the Tea Party supporters will likely lose, much as the social conservatives did in the previous generation. The only way that the funders will stop financially supporting the leadership is if the Republicans agree to any tax increases, so no changes can be made.