The numbers may not have favored a Michael Bloomberg victory, but they don’t favor the dysfunctional duopoly that is our two-party system, either. Someone is going to do the math and seed a centrist third party.
Michael Bloomberg is not going to mount an Independent bid for president. His analysis of polling data suggested that he would, at best, force the presidential election into the House of Representatives, where the Republican nominee would almost certainly win. This is good news for the eventual Democratic nominee, but bad news for the long-term health of the country. It means that not only will there be no centrist alternative to the Democratic and Republican nominees in this election, but that there will be no one to galvanize and seed the rise of a centrist third-party anytime soon in American Politics. With no center of gravity in American politics, there will be no force to pull the two parties toward the middle, and we can look forward to even more political polarization and dysfunction.
How is this ridiculous situation even possible in an era of consumer choice? Consider the following numbers:
- In the U.S., we have moved from a handful of TV networks to literally hundreds of channels and content providers to accommodate virtually every viewing niche.
- People no longer have to listen to the radio or individual music albums, but can instead create completely customized playlists to match their musical preferences.
- There are perhaps more than a million well-attended conventions that cater to every esoteric hobby imaginable, ranging from organic gardening to cosplay.
- The fast food market supports dozens of national and regional restaurant chains.
- There are dozens of professional baseball leagues.
- There are almost a dozen regular late night talk shows.
- There are four leagues devoted to intercollegiate athletics.
- The three Kardashian sisters have almost 79 million Twitter followers.
- There are two national political parties.
If the political world were a 1970s Greek restaurant, the customers would be telling the owners that a menu with cheeseburgers, chips, and Pepsi had one item too many.
How is it possible that voters continue to tolerate this two-item political menu? Consider the following numbers:
- The Republican Party enjoys a 32% favorability rating.
- With a 48% favorability rating, the Democratic Party enjoys bragging rights in this race to the bottom.
- Elected officials from both parties fare even worse. In a recent poll, 61% of respondents said that Members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – had low or very low ethics standards.
- And Congress as an institution – an institution run by both Democrats and Republicans over the past decade – has the lowest approval rating of all at 14%.
- It should be no surprise that registered Independent voters in the U.S. now outnumber registered Democrats and registered Republicans.
In an era where Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz receive very strong support in the presidential primaries, it would be quite a stretch to argue that people are increasingly registering as Independents because they think the Democrats are not sufficiently liberal and the Republicans are not sufficiently conservative. To the contrary, the far more likely explanation is that the parties no longer represent people in the political center. Consider the following numbers:
- Economic conservatives outnumber economic liberals by a 2:1 margin in the U.S.
- On perhaps the most divisive social issue in American politics, Americans who believe that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances outnumber Americans opposing abortion in all circumstances by a more than 2:1 margin.
- On climate change, most Americans believe that it is real and that human activity is contributing to global warming, but they also believe that we have a reasonable amount of time to prevent its most serious impacts;
- On foreign policy, the majority of voters disfavor both President Bush’s approach (neoconservatism) and President Obama’s (idealism and inconsistency).
Although there is not complete overlap among the voters in each of these four groups, if we displayed the actual overlap in a Venn diagram, we would have perhaps the literal center in American politics – a gaping hole, actually, that neither national political party could close given its platform. In an era of consumer choice and widespread customer dissatisfaction with the only two national political brands, how is it possible that we do not have a national political movement that represents people who are economically conservative, socially moderate, environmentally responsible, and diplomatically and militarily realistic?
In the commercial world, a start-up designed to address this untapped market would attract massive amounts of venture capital and rapidly gain market share. It would be a “unicorn.” Even without Mr. Bloomberg (or Howard Schultz), the numbers tell us it is only a matter of time before the political equivalent occurs, and the sooner the better. If only we had a Silicon Valley that specialized in seeding promising political movements.