Majority Of Republicans Support A Third Party
For the first time, a majority of Republicans support creation of a third political party. Does it really mean anything?
A new Gallup poll has some rather interesting news about the way Republicans are feeling right now:
Gallup has always found political independents to be most desirous of a third party, and 68% currently are. But right now there is also a significant party gap, with 52% of Republicans favoring a third party, compared with 33% of Democrats.
This is the first time Gallup finds a significantly higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats in favor of a third party. During much of President Bush’s term, the opposite was true, with Democrats more likely to favor the formation of a third party. That gap narrowed in 2007, after the Democrats’ victories in the 2006 midterms, and there has been a minimal difference between the two parties until the current poll.
The trend lines are stark, and rather interesting:
The trends seem to defy any standard explanation. It’s easy, perhaps to understand why support for a third-party among Democrats might have risen during the Bush Administration. Their party was out of power, after all, and there was a perception by some on the left that leaders in Congress weren’t fighting the Bush Administration hard enough, especially over issues like the Iraq War. How to explain, though, that Democratic support for a third-party rose by seven points between 2008 and 2010 when Democrats controlled Congress and the White House? Similarly, it makes sense that GOP support for the idea of a third-party would rise from 2008 to 2010, but how do you explain the rise of 8 points from 2010 to this year, after the GOP took control of the House?
Part of the explanation for that last part may lie in the fact that, perhaps not surprisingly, support for a third-party among self-identified supporters of the Tea Party movement are very amenable to the idea of a third-party:
The more important question, of course, is what this really means. The last truly successful third-party movement in American history was the Republican Party, which ended up displacing the Whigs and other rival small parties to become the second dominant party in American politics, and that’s the what it has been essentially for the past 151 years. Since that time, there have been third-party movements — the Socialists under Eugene V. Debs, the Progressive/Bull Moose Party, the Dixiecrats, and the Ross Perot/Reform Party movement — but none of them have been able to sustain themselves beyond one or two election cycles. For better or worse, the American political system as it currently exists seems designed to naturally lead to the creation of two dominant political parties.
What we’re seeing here, then, isn’t so much a public longing to get rid of the GOP or Democratic Party, but another example of widespread frustration with the political system. As with the polls we see that say that the same people who re-elect their Congressmen every two years hate Congress as an institution, results like this basically just constitute the public venting about a political system that is, to say the least, frustrating. In terms of actual policy, though, it means very little.