Discontent With Party Politics Reaches New Heights

Close to one year away from the 2024 presidential election, most Americans say they are discontent with their candidate choices, and 28 percent of Americans say they do not like either political party, quadruple the share that said the same thing 30 years ago.

But the question remains whether voters will hold their noses and vote for a candidate they dislike or sit out this election.

Americans are less satisfied than they were even five years ago with the quality of candidates running for office, according to a new study by Pew Research Center that attempts to understand the breadth and depth of political dissatisfaction in the country. Just 26 percent of Americans said candidates for office had been good in the last several years, with no split between Republicans and Democrats. That’s down from 47 percent in 2018 and 34 percent in 2021, when voters who aligned with the party in power were more likely to be satisfied.

When it comes to the quality of candidates running for the presidency, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are not satisfied, but majorities of voters from both parties are unhappy.

“The two-party system just doesn’t work — there aren’t only two types of people,” said Madison Lane, a mother of two and political independent from Jacksonville, Fla. “I believe in global warming, gay rights and trans rights. I can’t really vote Republican and believe in those things. But at the same time, Democrats are just fueled by big corporations and money. So I feel like I’m left with no good candidates to choose from.”

As more ideologically extreme voters decide primary elections, parties are also pushed to the extremes, which leaves a vast majority of the people in the middle feeling alienated, said Professor Ian Shapiro, a political science professor at Yale University and author of “Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy From Itself.”

“I expect this number who feel alienated by the parties to continue to grow,” he said.

Across the partisan spectrum, Americans tend to agree on what is wrong with the political system, citing political fighting, polarization, money in politics and lobbying influence. And when asked specifically to list any strengths of the political system, more than half of Americans either skipped the question entirely or said the system had no strengths. Respondents who did not list a strength tended to be younger and less educated.

In an era where many delight in hate watching television shows, engagement in politics may be a part of the problem. Highly politically engaged Americans are more likely than those who are more tuned out to say they always or often feel exhausted and angry when they think about politics.

Discontent with political options is not new, and nearly every presidential election features a quest to float a moderate, if often quixotic, alternative to the major parties. According to the Pew study, sizable shares of Americans say they wish there were more political parties from which to choose, and this sentiment is stronger among Democrats than Republicans.

But only about a quarter of Americans actually think having more political parties would solve the nation’s problems. And most Republicans and Democrats think their own party governs in an honest and ethical way and is respectful and tolerant of different types of people.

“Politicians are not focusing on the priorities of the public,” Morris Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford, said. “They’re primarily focused on niche issues.” Even so, he said, “most Americans will hold their nose and pick from the available two parties.”

Despite the rhetoric from many Republican elected officials focused on questioning the integrity of elections and vote counting, Americans — including sizable shares of Republicans — still see voting as the single best way to change the country for the better.

Even so, only a quarter of Americans think who the president is makes a big difference in their lives.

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