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Let’s Get The Party Started Again

Political parties, like so many other formal institutions in our country, have fallen pretty well out of favor to put it mildly. You know what I am talking about. I can envision the average Joe, casual political observer in a diner or at work bemoaning destructive partisanship in America. “I don’t like either political party” he’ll say. “I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I vote for who I think is best to do the job, regardless of party.” Odds are he pulls the lever for the same party right down the ticket every election.

It is a point of pride for Mr. Average Joe in this case to not identify with either of the political parties. Who could blame him? The irony is that the hostile division which is playing out before us is actually a result of too little partisanship.

Pay attention to any political coverage and you’ll hear pundits talk about “independent voters” like they’re rare jewels. As if the candidate who can discover and collect the most of these precious few commodities will cash them in on election day and win. The idea of the mythic, completely independently-minded voter, closely mulling over each candidates’ positions, is just that; a myth. They are vague characters in media-created folklore.

The truth is, most Americans have distinct partisan or ideological leanings. They just don’t like to admit it. Roughly 30 percent of Americans identify themselves with each party respectively. Then 40 percent, a plurality, identify themselves as “independent.” However, nearly all of those “independents” admit they favor one party or another. When you add in the “leaners,” the country is split roughly 47 and 47 (give or take a few.) That leaves a tiny sliver of voters “in the middle” who hop from one party to another election by election. In other words, 40 plus percent of voters claim to be “independent,” though most vote in lockstep with one of the two major parties. All this data is from Gallup for those keeping track.

Robust, organized, and competitive parties are part of a well-functioning democratic republic. The problem is, they’re built on trust and participation which have both eroded quite considerably. People are concerned and knowledgeable but refuse to participate in the systems which were designed to achieve certain policy goals.

For evidence, look no further than Donald Trump, a former game show host and Democrat who steamrolled dignified, established members of the Republican Party and has now completely remodeled it as his own personal brand. I do love picking on Trump but the Democratic Party is in a similarly decrepit state. Bernie Sanders, who is not a member of the party, and Michael Bloomberg, who was a Republican only a couple years ago lead the race for the party’s nomination. Regardless of your feelings toward any of these three examples, this is not a healthy long-term situation. Where only the single person with ungodly amounts of cash or the ability to inspire anger on the fringes stand any chance.

Voters, generally, are no more liberal or conservative than before. There used to be Conservative Democrats and Liberal Republicans. Getting anything done required reasoned debate and good-faith compromise. Everyone sacrifices a little bit to achieve something positive for the greatest number of people and they’re rewarded with satisfied voters. Now we have two sides with contempt and bloodlust for the other, screaming about who is more evil. Let’s get the party started again.

Derek Smith is a Frewsburg native.

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