The other day, a Gallup poll revealed that we Americans had arrived at a watershed moment.
More than 60% of us — 62%, in fact — are dissatisfied with the current array of political choices and think we need a third party.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Signs of disaffection for the political system are all around.
Poll after poll reveals that President Joe Biden’s standing with the public has plummeted. The most recent of them — a New York Times survey — pegged him at 32%.
Biden’s predecessor in the White House, Republican Donald Trump, spent all four of his years in the Oval Office underwater. His public approval rating never climbed above the middle 40s and the percentage of Americans who disapproved of him almost always was above 50%.
The most recent surveys show that 55% of Americans have a negative view of Trump. More troubling for him is the fact that roughly half of all Republicans think their party needs to move on from the twice-impeached former president.
Democrats also are far from enthralled with their leader, Biden. They, too, hunger for new blood and fresh options.
What accounts for all this alienation from our process of self-government?
It’s hard to know definitively, but there are several possible answers to that question.
One is that we Americans now define ourselves more by what we are against than what we are for.
Trump and his supporters base their fraudulent claims that he “won” the 2020 presidential election on the premise that there was no way Biden could have aroused wide and fervent support on his own.
There’s a sliver of truth in most great cons — just enough to make it plausible.
In this case, their argument that Joe Biden long ago had all signs of charisma surgically removed is accurate. He is not a figure who can make masses march.
But Trump’s analysis — such as it is — overlooks Trump’s own divisive magnetism.
A huge swath of the folks who voted for the Democratic ticket in 2020 didn’t do so because they supported Biden. No, they cast their ballots for Biden because they couldn’t stand Trump.
This led Biden and the Democrats to arrive at their own misguided conclusions. They thought the resounding popular vote victory Biden racked up was a mandate for their agenda.
Biden’s only real mandate was for him not to be Donald Trump. When he began to push a more specific agenda, Biden quickly found himself in political trouble.
But the disconnect in our political system is larger than the personalities of two leaders and the fleeting challenges of this moment in history.
That’s what the Gallup poll’s finding that nearly two-thirds of Americans see the two-party system as a kind of self-applied straitjacket, one they wish to escape.
They aren’t wrong.
The reality is that both the Democratic and Republican parties have resembled Frankenstein monsters for years. They are creatures grafted out of disparate parts that move in ungainly fashion through a world that has come to fear both factions.
The truth is that we have had at least four real political parties in this country for much of this century — and perhaps even longer than that.
The Republicans have pushed social conservatives who are animated by issues such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage with free-market devotees who pray at the altars of low taxes and deregulation into an unholy union. For much of the 20th century, the economic conservatives held the ascendancy over the social conservatives, but the rise of Trump upended that pecking order.
Democrats are just as divided, as their dysfunctional relationship with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, demonstrates. They are split into factions of progressive Democrats who are driven by desires to craft a more diverse, equal and inclusive society and more traditional liberals who think in terms of preserving labor rights and a social safety net.
At this time, largely because they’re terrified of Trump’s often irrational rages, Republicans seem more able to paper over their internal differences than Democrats.
Once fear of Trump no longer unifies them, Republicans too may engage in the same sort of savage intramural strife that has plagued Democrats.
But the reality is that neither party, as currently constructed, can command a majority of the public’s support.
That’s why so many Americans wish they had a wider set of choices.