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June 20, 2013

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The growing dissatisfaction with the Big Two

Growing up, I always assumed my parents' political beliefs were “normal” and pretty much middle-of-the-road common sense. After all, these were my parents, and they would never mislead me. That their friends, who came over for dinner parties, pool parties, or just to hang out on the back deck (we had a big back deck), all seemed to be mostly in agreement, made it seem even more normal.

It wasn't until I got older and started to travel and talk to people outside of the parental bubble of like-minded friends that I realized maybe, just perhaps, the political view my parents had of the country and the government was a wee bit outside the mainstream. I also was to learn, post-divorce, that my parents actually disagreed quite a bit with each other, but had kept their disagreements out of sight and sound of the children.

Turns out my mother was a Kennedy-esque progressive Democrat while my father was a Eisenhower moderate Republican. Which always struck me as odd, since my mother moved the family to the Deep South while my father stayed in the California Bay Area after they split. Finding a Republican in San Francisco is quite an accomplishment, but I know there is at least one there. Same thing with my mother, who settled into the Northern suburbs of Atlanta, where Democrats usually feared to tread.

Even so, they stayed true to their party beliefs, generally voting for the nominated candidates and espousing the core beliefs of the respective parties among their, as always, like-minded friends. The bubbles remained intact, except that now I was being exposed to two separate bubbles, depending on which parent I was visiting at the time. 

When I started developing my own political beliefs, I came to the conclusion that it was easy to describe my political status by my view instead of by a party. As someone who has friends from all political belief systems, I figured out that both of the main political parties in this country were further apart than ever in what they publicly espoused (take a moment to actually read their platforms, as stated at last year's presidential conventions)—and closer together than ever in their iron-fisted goal of never allowing another party to upset the two-party system.

Which may be, slowly, ever-so-slowly, starting to change. According to the Pew Research Center, as of last year only 56 percent of Americans identified themselves with one of the two parties (32 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican). That leaves 38 percent of us on our own politically, the highest percentage ever recorded. And those most disaffected seem to be former Republicans, as just a decade ago, 30 percent of the country identified with the GOP.

The advent of the Tea Party movement and the slow-but-steady growth of the Libertarian Party has been a major force in moving conservatives away from the Republican Party, while the Green Party has been siphoning off liberals increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the Democratic Party under President Obama. Not to mention a growing number of smaller parties who are likewise drawing away identification and support from the Big Two.

Which is not to say the DNC and RNC have anything to fear anytime soon. The Tea Party movement is the strongest political movemement in decades, yet it is not a political party and can't even agree on what their main message should be (there are almost as many different Tea Party groups as there are types of tea) aside from a unified hatred of taxes. Yet while the Big Two are comfortable, incredibly well-funded, and have a locktight-grip on state and federal government, they do have to acknowledge that more than a third of voters don't seem to like either one of them. 

And that number continues to grow. 

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