With the big stock market drop and credit rating downgrade that immediately followed the debt ceiling debacle, public discontent with elected representatives in Washington is, once again, at an all-time high. In a New York Times/CBS News poll taken last week, a full 82% of respondents stated that they disapprove of the way the Congress is handling its job, “the most since The Times first began asking the question in 1977,” reported the Gray Lady.
It is surely no coincidence that record high numbers of Americans also refuse to associate themselves with the Democrats or Republicans. A full 39% identified themselves to the pollster as Independents, compared with just 32% who said they are Democrats and 24% who admitted to being Republicans. Since 1992, there was only one other poll in this series which found such high levels of Independent identification, and that was in late July 2009.
Writing in The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein argues that “astronomical levels of discontent with President Obama, Congress, and the Washington system itself” among Independent voters is building into a “towering wave of alienation” that promises yet another volatile political backlash in the voting booth next year.
“With each party hemorrhaging public support amid political polarization and economic stagnation, the implications for 2012 are complex and unpredictable,” he writes.
Brownstein sees three possibilities in his crystal ball: the rise of an Independent third party movement, an anti-incumbent backlash against the sitting representatives of both major parties, and continued de-alignment of the voting public from the major parties rather than realignment with either of them.
On the other hand, many supporters of the Democratic and Republican parties are more comfortable explaining away the public’s deep discontent and growing dissatisfaction with the two-party state, choosing to ignore it rather than address or confront it.
In Commentary Magazine, Seth Mandel advises Republicans that in 2012 they should not reach out to Independents. “There is no “reaching out” to Democrats and independents (or Republicans for that matter), at least in the classic sense; there is only offering solutions. This is mainly because independents don’t really exist,” he writes, echoing the assertions of observers who are ideologically and institutionally invested in the maintenance of the two-party state.
At The New Republic, on the other side of the duopoly divide, Ruy Teixeira makes the very same point, on the basis of the very same article, but from a Democratic perspective. He argues that President Obama should not reach out to Independents because Independents effectively do not exist.
“To understand how very unlikely it is that Obama’s long sought-after deal is going to magically turn around his numbers, we must visit one of the most robust but amazingly underappreciated findings in American political science: independents are not independent,” writes Teixeira.
Here we see a rare point of overt agreement between the partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties: Independents should be ignored in favor of courting and consolidating the dwindling number of Democratic and Republican party adherents across the country.
This situation makes one thing crystal clear. So long as Independents continue voting for, or otherwise supporting, Democrats and Republicans, it is a virtual certainty that they will continue to lack adequate representation in government. So long as Independents allow themselves to be held politically hostage by the ideologues of the two-party state and the entrenched interests that maintain both the Democratic and Republican parties, they are not Independent; instead, they are codependent.
From yesterday's column at CAIVN: