The signs of dissatisfaction, disaffection and just plain discontent are everywhere in America today.
The thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have congregated for more than three weeks in downtown New York’s Liberty Square, and at spinoff rallies in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston and Seattle, to protest the financial sector’s mismanagement of the U.S. economy, are now joining forces with a wide array of groups — including Move¬On.org members, union activists, community organizing groups and ordinary disgruntled citizens nationwide.
Despite their seemingly left-wing orientation, the Occupy Wall Street protestors have explicitly avoided any partisan reference. They blame both parties for what many protestors call the rigged financial system.
Similarly, the tea party movement — which has already demonstrated an unprecedented level of activism and influence during the 2010 midterms, as well as in the debt ceiling debate – continues to advocate for policies that reinforce core constitutional principles. They are seeking to reduce the size and scope of government.
Like the Wall Street group, the tea party blames politicians from both parties for our current problems – even as they focus on influencing the Republican Party.
The two groups – Occupy Wall Street and the tea party movement – could not be more different. But both reflect the public’s fundamental dissatisfaction with the state of U.S. life and governance.
That disaffection is creating circumstances which make an alternative third party particularly appealing for 2012. Voters express declining confidence in government across the board. They confront a deteriorating economy and the almost complete failure of the two parties – at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — to address the problems in a constructive and cooperative way.
Polling reveals this general voter discontent. In varied polls, for example, U.S. political institutions now garner among the lowest ratings for credibility that they’ve ever received. Gallup’s annual governance survey, updated Sept. 8-11, showed a record-high 81 percent of Americans dissatisfied with the way the country is being run.
Meanwhile, confidence in Congress hit a new low, 31 percent, this September. Other recent polling by CBS and Fox News puts congressional job approval as low as 11 percent.
The administration has also hit a low point – with Obama’s job approval ratings at a record low for this White House — down to 39 percent in the recent McClatchy/Marist poll. Just 36 percent approve of the way the president is handing his job overall, according to an Economist/YouGov poll released the last week in September — the lowest in Obama’s presidency.
A recent Gallup poll showed the president’s ratings on the economy are even worse, plummeting to 26 percent — down 11 points since Gallup last measured this in mid-May.
In my recent polling, both parties and the congressional leadership all draw net negative ratings.
So there is good reason to believe that a credible third party may be on the ballot in 2012 — and would garner far more support than most political analysts would expect.
I recently polled for Americans Elect, a nonprofit political organization that is now planning an Internet convention to select a third presidential ticket for the 2012 election. They are in the process of securing ballot access in all 50 states.
This demonstrates that an increasing number of Americans are now searching beyond the two parties for effective leadership. Many now support an alternative 2012 ticket to break the two-party duopoly’s stranglehold.
Fifty-seven percent of voters surveyed say there is a need for a third party, while only one-quarter say the two major parties adequately represent the American people.
Voters favor by 58 percent to 13 percent the idea of having an alternative presidential ticket, independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties, on the ballot in 2012. There is also a broad appeal among voters across the political spectrum to participate in the online nominating process and convention.
Indeed, 64 percent of voters polled say they are interested in learning more about how an independent, online convention would nominate a balanced ticket.
In keeping with these findings, 55 percent of respondents in a September Gallup poll said there is a need for a third party. For the first time in Gallup’s history, a majority of Republicans also embraced the idea. In addition, 30 percent of respondents in a September Newsweek survey we conducted, said that a president unaffiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties would be more effective than a partisan pick in solving America’s problems.
This is far more than just a reaction against the status quo from an electorate tired of politics as usual.
Voters desperately want the opportunity to change the political system. Polling showed they are looking for their voices to be heard by electing a centrist alternative to the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets in 2012. They believe, our results show, that this could force the two parties to work together, bringing logical ideas from both.
To be sure, there have been a number of concerns raised about such a ticket.
First, the major impediment may be ballot access — as it was for the third party presidential candidacies of John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992.
But the Americans Elect effort to have ballot access in all 50 states could remove this major obstacle.
Both Anderson and Perot’s candidacies had exceptionally high public support initially. Perot actually lead for several months, securing 430 electoral votes by The Hotline estimates, before temporarily withdrawing from the campaign. He was still able to claim nearly 20 percent of the vote on Election Day.
Similarly, in 1980, Anderson was competitive with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during the first few months. But he was stymied when it came to gaining ballot access and raising necessary funds.
Now, given the broad dissatisfaction with the political system and growing support for a third party presidential ticket , it should not be surprising that there is far more support for an independent presidential candidacy in 2012.
We are at a unique moment. An online nominating process and 50-state ballot access for an independent candidate could provide a key resource as American voters seek to revitalize our dysfunctional political system.
Douglas E. Schoen is a Democratic pollster and strategist. He is the author of “The Political Fix: Changing the Game of American Democracy, From the Grass Roots to the White House.”
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