Record High Independent Identification: 40%

From Gallup:
The percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011, as is common in a non-election year, although the 40% who did so is the highest Gallup has measured, by one percentage point. More Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31% to 27%.
Party Identification, Yearly Averages, Gallup Polls, 1988-2011
These results are based on more than 20,000 interviews conducted in 20 separate Gallup polls in 2011. Gallup has computed annual averages of party identification since 1988, when it began regularly conducting interviews by telephone. The prior high percentage of independents was 39% in 1995 and 2007.

Gallup records from 1951-1988 -- based on face-to-face interviewing -- indicate that the percentage of independents was generally in the low 30% range during those years, suggesting that the proportion of independents in 2011 was the largest in at least 60 years. . . .
Increased independent identification is not uncommon in the year before a presidential election year, but the sluggish economy, record levels of distrust in government, and unfavorable views of both parties helped to create an environment that fostered political independence more than in any other pre-election year. 

Republican-Democrat Party Politics Is the Politics of Fear

In "The Foundation of Government," from 1776, John Adams wrote:
Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it. 
Today, fear is among the primary motivations for the continued support of the ruling factions in government.  Partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties do not advocate for the candidates of their preferred party but rather call for reactive negation of the candidates of the other major party.  To vote for a Democrat is, first and foremost, a vote against the Republican.  To vote for a Republican is, first and foremost, a vote against the Democrat.  This is the fundamental basis of reactionary, negative politics in the United States today.  It is a politics based on fear.  It paralyzes voters and ensures the continued joint misrule of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Consider a recent article at PoliticsUSA laying out "A Possible Nightmare Scenario for America in 2012."  The piece takes a look at the possible outcome of a successful or semi-successful third party presidential bid by the candidates of Americans Elect as laid out in an analysis of "the pitfalls of a third party presidential candidacy" published at the Brookings Institute.

Regular readers will surely be familiar with each of the possible scenarios laid out in the paper.  A third party candidate could very well accomplish the impossible and win the presidency.  But he or she would then be politically isolated by the partisan composition of the House and Senate.  "Few in the House or Senate would feel allegiance to or affinity for the newly elected president," we read at the Brookings Institute.  Is this not the very definition of putting party before country?  This, in itself, should be reason enough to vote for alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.  If you are considering a vote for a third party or independent candidate for president, it only makes sense to consider alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans down the ballot.  

In the second scenario, the third party candidate receives a modest amount of support, but one of the major party candidates still wins a clear electoral victory but "with diminished popular support. The reduced popular support would undercut the legitimacy of the result and curtail momentum for the victor."  In a country where only around 60% of registered voters turnout for presidential elections, and only 71% of eligible voters are even registered, it is absurd to claim that any president has "popular support."  In Barack Obama's "landslide" victory in 2008, he garnered just over 50% support from 60% of 71% of eligible voters.  Less than a quarter of eligible voters cast a ballot for Barack Obama in 2008.  The partisans of the two-party state would have us believe that this equates to  "popular support."

It is the third scenario, however, that scares the author at PoliticsUSA most.  In this case, no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes and the election is decided in the US House.  From PoliticsUSA:
You see where they are headed with this? Who controls the U.S. House of Representatives? The extreme right – Tea Party fanatics, demonstrated nihilists. Who elects the president if this is no clear majority? The U.S. House of Representatives. . . . Our political system is a mess. . . . But there is real danger in monkeying with the works. People generally don’t tend to think ahead about the consequences of their actions; we find out about those later – the hard way. . . . That’s where we are with this potential fix to our ideologically driven gridlock in Washington. The gridlock is bad. But as the old saying goes, the cure might be worse than the disease.
Fear raises its ugly head.  Sure, our system is a mess, but let's not even try to clean it up.   That is the moral to this story.  It is noteworthy, given the recent discussion of centrist strategy here at Politea, that this Democratic commentator holds that Obama is the centrist candidate in 2012: "In 2012 we have a centrist president who steers from the extremes of either party. If ever there was an awkward time to attempt this [i.e. a centrist third party bid for president], it is now."  

AZ: Greens and Libertarians File Suit Against New Voter Registration Form

From today's column at IVN:
On December 29th, the Arizona Green and Libertarian parties filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of Arizona charging that the state’s new voter registration forms violate their First Amendment right to freedom of association and their Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection under the law.

The state’s former voter registration forms included a box prompting registrants to specify their party preference by writing that name in the space provided. In the most recent session of Arizona’s legislature, however, lawmakers changed the design. In the party preference section on the new form, voters are prompted to check one of three boxes: the first is labeled Republican, the second is labeled Democrat and the third is labeled ‘Other.’ Underneath the ‘Other’ label, a small space is provided for registrants to write in the name of their party preference if it is other than Democrat or Republican.

The lawsuit alleges that the form now discriminates against the state’s minor parties by privileging the Democrats and Republicans.  “This change has the sole effect of benefiting the Republican and Democratic Parties, and disadvantaging the Libertarian and Green Parties. It suggests the first two options to the future voter, while omitting all mention of the latter parties,” the suit charges.

The suit further states that when plaintiff Steve Lackey, a member of the Arizona Libertarian Party, attempted to register as a Libertarian at the Department of Motor Vehicles, “personnel there refused to allow him to do so, in the belief that “Other” referred to Independent, and not any third party.” In practice, the new form thus abridges the right to free association as it does not provide equal protection to all ballot qualified parties . . .

Given the rate at which Arizonans are leaving the Democratic and Republican parties, it is reasonable to assume that the change to the registration form was intended to bolster their membership rolls. Indeed, Independents now outnumber Democrats in the state. As of last July, 32.5% of the state’s voters specified no party preference. 31.1% were registered with the Democratic party and 35.4% were registered Republican. Just under 1% of the state’s voters are registered Libertarian or Green.

This represents a massive shift in registration patterns from just over a decade ago. In the year 2000, 43% of the state’s voters were registered Republican, 38% were registered Democratic, and only 18% specified no party preference on their registration forms.

The Third Party Dialogue: How Can Centrists Reach the Democrats?

Happy New Year!  As noted last week, the New York Times held a readers' dialogue on the issue of third party politics that began with a letter to the editor by Robert Levine calling for a centrist alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties.  Over the weekend they published nine responses to the original piece plus a response from Levine himself.  It may be interesting to simply layout the general tendency of each response, letter by letter, to see the breadth of opinion and overall tendency of the discussion.
1) Historical determinist argument against third party activism, i.e. third parties have failed in the past, therefore they will fail in the future.  Third party advocacy will further splinter the electorate.  It is better to work within the two-party system.
2) Disagreement with Levine's assumption that we need a third party of the center, states that Democrats and Republicans are already centrist-oriented.  Rather, we need a third and fourth party of the left and right to more adequately represent the breadth of opinion and interests among the people.  We need campaign finance reform and electoral reform to level the playing field.
3) Any third party strategy should focus on the US House not the presidency.  Reformers can also target competitive primary elections in the major parties to oust incumbents. 
4) Third party representatives would be just as corrupt as their Democratic and Republican counterparts, and would be sucked into the establishment's political machine.  Democrats and Republicans need to reform their respective parties and institute campaign finance reform.
5) "Centrism" got us into the current mess.  The problem isn't lack of centrists, it's obstructionism on the part of Republicans.  We need real opposition to the political and economic establishment in the form of a progressive third party.
6) A third party is not the answer and the barriers to entry are too high in any case.  Independents need to become involved in the major parties' primaries to moderate their extremes.
7) The United States already has numerous third parties but they are ignored by the media and marginalized by the political establishment.  We need to hear all positions across the political spectrum and not presented with a false choice between Republicans and Democrats.
8) The Democratic Party is already "the" centrist party.  Republican obstructionism is the problem.  History implies that third parties will not win and act as spoilers.
9) The Democrats are already "the" centrist party.  We need multiple viable alternatives to the major parties.  For that to happen we need serious electoral reform: campaign finance, voting systems etc.  
Read Levine's response.  One issue he does not touch on in his response to the response is the argument that the Democrats are already "the" centrist party.  This is a very common argument, at least in the mainstream liberal Democratic blogosphere, and directly contradicts the centrist position that the Democratic party has been captured by its far left progressive wing.  One obvious retort that one often hears in centrist circles is that the Democratic base is so far to the left that they think their party is centrist!  This argument leaves much to be desired as it relies on nothing more than the assertion of political relativism and ideological false consciousness.  Given that, politically speaking, Democrats are much less independently-minded than even Republicans, centrist third party advocates are going to need to develop arguments to appeal to those who would otherwise continue to cast their ballots against the Republicans by voting Democrat.  Ideas?