Most Americans Desperate for Third Major Political Party in Trump Era

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, is the most popular politician in the U.S. Sanders has rejected calls to form a third party in recent months. But a growing number of Americans are in favor of a third major political party. Getty Images

More Americans than ever—61 percent—say the Democratic and Republican parties are inadequate and the U.S. should have a third major political party, a new poll from Gallup shows. The desire among Americans for a competitive third party has been above 57 percent over the last five years, but Gallup’s latest poll marks a record high level of support. 

Backing for a third major party also hit a record high among independents—77 percent—according to the new poll. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans say a competitive third party is needed. 

This historic level of support for a third major party isn’t all that surprising when you consider the impact third-party candidates had on the 2016 presidential election: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson won 3.3 percent of the popular vote—the best performance in the party’s history. Green Party candidate Jill Stein won 1 percent of the popular vote, which isn’t a record high for the party (Ralph Nader holds the title with 2.7 percent in 2000) but is still significant. 

Due to the structure of America’s electoral system—especially campaign finance regulations—it’s extremely hard for third party candidates to run and win. 

George Washington was the last candidate not connected to a major political party to win the presidency—he was elected twice as an independent. Since then, Theodore Roosevelt is the only person to run as a third-party candidate to come anywhere close to winning an election. In 1912, he came in second place—with 27 percent of the vote—while running as a member of the Progressive Party. 

In short, third-party candidates have a long history of failure, but recent trends suggest that may not remain the case in the near future. 

The Republican and Democratic parties are extremely unpopular right now, and a recent Gallup poll showed just 28 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the country is being governed. In this context, it’s not shocking Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, is the most popular politician in the U.S. But Sanders has rejected calls to form a third party in recent months, saying his best avenue to have a real impact is via the current structure and the Democratic Party. 

Yet this all goes to show how eager Americans are for change. The Trump era hasn’t been delivering on that desire, at least not at the moment, but it could mark the beginning of a major transition in terms of the political framework of the U.S. 

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