On Jan. 7, the Deseret News ran a column by Richard Davis titled “Are the two major parties in trouble?” that projected a struggle for both Republicans and Democrats in the upcoming election season.
Davis suggested that “despite the poor electoral performance of independents and third-party candidates, Americans today more than ever want other alternatives to the two major parties.”
In the wake of the partisan gridlock that led to the most recent government shutdown, dissatisfaction among the two major parties has become an issue of passion for many. In fact, a Gallup poll released Jan. 8 revealed that 42 percent of Americans now identify as independents. Not only is that higher than those who identify as Republicans (25 percent) or Democrats (31 percent) but it’s the highest number who have identified as such since Gallup began asking the question.
In turn, we took to social media and asked what our readers' thoughts were concerning the need for a major third party. On both Facebook and Twitter we asked whether they thought a major third party was necessary, and if they believed the two major parties represent most of the American electorate.
Though the responses were diverse, we noticed a few trends.
Common themes throughout the thread included instituting term limits, creating a third party and the abolishment of the party system in its entirety. With more than 60 responses to our inquiry from our readers, this is clearly a topic of concern in Utah and across the country.
The party system
While many are aware of George Washington’s aversion to political parties, the first seeds of partisan politics in America were sown early on, with some citing the ideological conflict between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as the catalyst for partisan government. Though parties per se did not emerge until the vigorous campaigning of Andrew Jackson in the 1820s, partisan loyalties are almost as old as the republic itself.
“I wish there were no political parties, and each candidate had to stand on their own merits,” Facebook commenter Jeremy JMan Richardson wrote in response to Davis’ piece. “Unfortunately we have a lot of low-info voters who just vote for a particular party based on propaganda they heard.”
Similarly, Facebook commenter Trent Croft believes that parties should be abolished. “If you agree and believe in someone’s ideals and agenda then vote for the person you choose, not just blindly agreeing with someone because they are part of a party.”
As it currently stands, the House of Representatives, Senate and the Supreme Court of the United States do not have term limits. Presidents, however, have been restricted to two four-year terms since Congress passed the 22nd Amendment in 1951. Though eight states voted to enact term limits on Congress during the 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled that states do not have the right to restrict federal representatives to term limits.
One major fear caused by the lack of term limits, as expressed by Torrey Harmon on Twitter, is that by not restricting a legislator’s time in office, too much time and energy will be spent on re-election efforts.
Another benefit of term limits, according to some of our readers, is security from corruption. “We need to implement term limits to get those corrupted senators and congressional leaders outta there,” Sharon Renee Lutz commented on Richard Davis’ column.
In an effort to sum up these frustrations, commenter Kathie Rivera wrote, “Career politicians are the problem.”
A third party
While many of those quoted above recommended reforms that do not include the rise of a major third party to fix Washington, many of the responses were supportive of the idea:
Plenty of other respondents had the same conclusion, but their reasons varied. While some believe the more moderate Democrats and Republicans have become too similar for the good of the nation, such as Mike Tannehill, who believes that “when there is little difference between the two parties it is time for change,” others such as Carl Stark believe that a new party must form to avoid a takeover by either the far left or the far right:
Some, however, are less convinced that a third party is really what the country needs. These readers, such as commenter Steven Andrew Zaelit, are concerned that “third party candidates simply cannot muster enough support on a national level,” while others think third parties don’t have the interests of the whole country in mind:
@DesnewsOpinion The 2 major parties represent the whole of America, as the 3rd parties just focus on an individual aspect of the big parties— Jacko (@mrjackoboy) January 14, 2014
Ultimately, the emergence of a new major party will come down to public support for change, and as was the case with the emergence of the Republican Party in antebellum America, if a new prominent party were to gain momentum, it would likely force the demise of one of the other major parties.
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