If you were to say that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were to be competitive candidates for their respective parties nominations just a year ago, you would probably have been branded crazy.
And quite rightly so. For much of American history political parties have not been anywhere as polarised as they currently are. This deterioration of bipartisanship has led to one of the most gridlocked and ineffective American congresses seen in living memory.
A Gallup poll conducted last year found that the number of Americans who identify politically as independents has risen steadily, reaching a record high of 43% as of 2014, outperforming the 30% who call themselves Democrats and the 26% who say they are Republicans.
Now, of course most of these people will resign themselves to voting for these two parties in the end – after all they’re the only parties with an actual chance of winning an election, right?
While that may be true for now, I think that America’s political landscape is undergoing some major renovations, and with that I think that the current two party system will be placed under jeopardy, for reasons which you will see below.
A recent article by Lee Drutman described American politics as having reached “peak polarisation”. He points out the following:
Republicans are now in open warfare between Trump supporters and #NeverTrumpers. Democrats are far less divided, but internal rifts between their “establishment” (Hillary Clinton) and “insurgent” (Bernie Sanders) wings are also real and likely lasting.
Both parties are beholden to very undemocratic and shady special interests. When it comes to the Republicans, extensive coverage of the Koch brothers has exposed the party’s impetus for fuelling climate change denialism. The Democrats are not unscathed either, with big money donors such as George Soros, (a man who has been accused of breaking the Bank of England, collapsing the Malaysian currency and being convicted of illegal financial dealings in France) among other shadowy individuals contributing to the party. I think that this is just one of the many grievances which people are currently having with the seemingly ‘broken’ two party system we see today.
And this is where I come to the conclusion that if American politics is to remain in the hands of two parties, they must reinvent themselves urgently. And that’s because Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are at odds with the establishment. Sanders runs a campaign that is free of corporate donations and is funded by grassroots activists, while Trump has bankrolled much of his own campaign, meaning both of these candidates are not (or are certainly less) obliged to do anything for anyone but their voters.
What bodes even better for the prospects of a multi party system is the steady yet progressive rise of parties such as the Libertarians and Greens, who could pick up alienated supporters from both parties. With the former having gained over a million votes in 2012, and recent a Monmouth poll (take it with a pinch of salt, I know) going as far as to suggest that the party could break into double digits, this could be a perfect storm that could do some serious damage.
I’ll end the piece on an interesting note. How much of the two party vote would hypothetically be hemorrhaged by an independent Sanders/Trump run, as well as from the other parties? Now that’s definitely some food for thought.