Gallup Poll — Amid the government shutdown, 60% of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of this question. A new low of 26% believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans.
The results are consistent with Gallup’s finding of more negative opinions of both parties since the shutdown began, including a new low favorable rating for the Republican Party, and Americans’ widespread dissatisfaction with the way the nation is being governed.
The prior highs in perceived need for a third party came in August 2010, shortly before that year’s midterm elections, when Americans were dissatisfied with government and the Tea Party movement was emerging as a political force; and in 2007, when the newly elected Democratic congressional majority was clashing with then-President George W. Bush.
A majority of Americans have typically favored a third party in response to this question. Notably, support has dropped below the majority level in the last two presidential election years in which Gallup asked the question, 2012 and 2008. Support for a third party was lowest in 2003, the first year Gallup asked the question. That year, 40% thought the U.S. needed a third party, while 56% believed the Republicans and Democrats were doing an adequate job.
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As would be expected, a majority of independents — those who profess no initial allegiance to either party — have always said the U.S. needs a third party. Seventy-one percent currently hold that view, which has been exceeded twice before, in 2007 and 2010.
Given the inability of the Republican and Democratic parties to agree on the most basic of government functions — passing an annual budget to pay for federal programs — it is perhaps not surprising that the percentage of Americans who believe a third party is needed has never been higher.
However, the desire for a third party is not sufficient to ensure there will be one. Structural factors in the U.S. election system and the parties’ own abilities to adapt to changing public preferences have helped the Republican and Democratic parties to remain the dominant parties in U.S. government for more than 150 years. Third parties that have emerged to challenge their dominance have not been able to sustain any degree of electoral success.
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