This spring, a Rasmussen poll found that more than half of U.S. voters believe that neither of the two major parties is the party of the American people. The percentage of voters who report feeling disengaged from both the Republican and the Democratic parties had risen to a troubling 53 percent up several points in less than a year.
And just last month, a majority of U.S. adults 58 percent polled by Gallup said that a viable third political party is necessary because Republicans and Democrats do such a poor job representing the people.
To those of us whove long supported the Independence Party of Minnesota, the irony is painful: Never has there been a greater need for the IP. And yet, were struggling.
Why is this?
As someone who has worked very hard to engage civic-minded Minnesotans in the IP over the years, and who has seen many other passionate IP advocates do the same, I can tell you that its not for lack of effort. Nor is it for lack of a smart, appealing platform that speaks to Minnesotans penchant for fiscal responsibility, civil liberties and a common-sense, solutions-oriented approach to governance.
The reason is that the system is stacked against us.
And by us I mean most Minnesotans not just the Independence Party. Voters across the political spectrum are sick of partisan polarization and ideological grandstanding. They value compromise, consensus-building and getting things done, yet our electoral system is tailor-made to perpetuate the two-party dysfunction that continues to turn people off.
The outmoded plurality system we use to elect our leaders all but guarantees that third parties and their candidates, however compelling, are usually assumed to have no chance of winning. In the absence of ranked-choice voting (RCV) which allows voters to rank their preferences rather than vote for just one only a major-party candidate is perceived as viable.
A vote for a third party is considered a wasted vote, and most voters wont risk inadvertently helping to elect the major-party candidate they dislike most.
Its another painful irony: The Independence Party, which I consider the essence of pragmatism, constantly suffers from voters impulse to be pragmatic in the voting booth. We understand that impulse, but it is profoundly disempowering to the legions of voters in the mainstream middle.
In a nation disenchanted by the parties and the limits of our plurality election system, the IP and other third parties present refreshing alternatives, but they face colossal challenges in convincing voters they can compete. This problem extends beyond any one candidate, race or election cycle. Our challenge is systemic. That doesnt mean its not worth mounting; its imperative that we continue to try.
Yet it also requires big-picture thinking, including implementation of ranked-choice voting at the state and national levels. This not only would give voters more choice and power, it would eliminate the wasted vote syndrome; reduce the role of money in campaigns, and foster greater civility, compromise and consensus-building to address our states critical issues.
I hope the many Minnesota voters who often feel alienated by the two major parties will, rather than disengaging or giving way to cynicism, join me in working for a system that makes positive, rational change possible.
Jack Uldrich is the former chair of the Independence Party of Minnesota.