Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System

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9781400067336: Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System
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· A 2006 survey revealed that two thirds of Americans consider themselves “dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S.”
· In recent polls, 60 to 80 percent of registered voters say they want an independent presidential candidate.
· Independent voters now constitute the largest segment of the American electorate.

America is at a political crossroads. We are growing alienated from the two major parties, which are dominated by ideologues and offer simplistic solutions, with candidates who think only in terms of how to frame issues–often irrelevant “hot-button” issues–in order to get elected. Meanwhile, voters tend to crave real solutions to the real problems we face–energy independence, affordable health care, the environment, jobs, sustainable national security. And increasingly those voters want change and they want it now, yearning for leaders who understand the tough problems, confront them head-on, and can offer practical solutions without kowtowing to lockstep partisan interests.

A behind-the-scenes force in American politics for more than thirty years who has worked with, among others, Ed Koch, Jon Corzine, and Michael Bloomberg, political consultant Douglas E. Schoen now makes a bold argument: that the 2008 presidential election offers an unprecedented opportunity for the right third-party ticket. In Declaring Independence, Schoen discusses major
trends–voter dissatisfaction, lengthening campaign seasons, networking and fund-raising on the Internet, demographic shifts, fundamental changes in how Americans view their leaders–that are opening the door to more independent candidates and radically transforming how all candidates present themselves to the electorate and citizenry.

The numbers don’t lie: We are a nation of political moderates who want smart, workable solutions to our serious problems. Largely as a result of media attention, the current cynical and dysfunctional political system divides us into red and blue Americas–and in turn makes government less responsive, efficient, and effective. Americans want to see results; they don’t care whether those results come from Republicans or Democrats or people outside the two old-school parties. This is the first major book to study and analyze the large-scale trends and minor developments that could pave the way to a successful third-party presidential candidacy. Clearheaded, optimistic, and filled with incisive commentary from a respected authority on campaign politics, Declaring Independence offers a cogent glimpse at a transformed near future of American politics and government.
Advance praise for Declaring Independence
“The two-party system in America is breaking down, and Doug Schoen’s new book, Declaring Independence, explains why. This is an in-depth look at why the American people are so fed up with partisanship, and where we, as a nation, go from here.”
–Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of New York City

“It’s Independents’ Day in America, and Doug Schoen works the numbers in this persuasive book to prove that anxious moderates can do more than swing elections. They are poised to smash the two-party system and give us an independent president as early as this year.”
–Jonathan Alter, senior editor, Newsweek, author of The Defining Moment

“Aptly titled, Declaring Independence is a convincing exploration by a learned observer of the forces propelling–and the urgent need for–political reform.”
–Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska senator and governor, president, the New School

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About the Author:

Douglas E. Schoen was a campaign consultant for more than thirty years with the firm he founded, Penn, Schoen & Berland. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

2008: Why America Is Ready for a Third-Party Candidate


"The right candidate . . . might be able to drive a bus right up the middle of the U.S. political scene today-lose the far left and the far right-and still maybe, just maybe, win a three-way election."
-Thomas Friedman, New York Times op-ed columnist

There is no doubt that we are at a crisis point in American politics. The American people are increasingly developing doubts about the efficiency and responsiveness of our institutions. And these increasingly deep-seated doubts cut to the very core of our philosophy of governing. As a result, there is a crisis of legitimacy in our democratic system. Polls show it, focus groups resonate with it, and political columnists are reporting it day in and day out. The crisis is due to a lack of credibility in the system itself. There are record levels of cynicism about Congress and the president. Americans lack confidence in both major parties, and believe they are far too partisan; they squabble endlessly rather than working collectively and collegially to solve our most pressing problems, and act as if ideology matters more than the greater good of the citizenry.

As a result, we're where we were in 1992 in terms of the level of dissatisfaction that allows a third-party presidential candidate to emerge. But we're also at a point where the record level of dissatisfaction impacts directly and immediately on the overall functioning and, indeed, legitimacy of our system of government.

Frustration and unhappiness are subjective feelings, and they change all the time. But they are quantifiable feelings nonetheless, and are measured obsessively by research organizations. According to a Gallup survey taken in the middle of May 2007, there has been a sudden plunge in its regularly reported "Satisfaction" index. Only 25 percent of Americans now say they are satisfied with the state of their country. The index has dropped 8 percent in just one month, and is at one of the lowest points ever measured.

Three out of four people are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country.

"The current 25 percent satisfaction level is very low by historical standards," according to the polling firm. "Since Gallup first asked this question in 1979, the average percentage of Americans saying they are satisfied with conditions in the country is 43 percent."

In June 2007 Gallup reported that the percentage of Americans with a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in Congress was at 14 percent, the lowest since the polling organization began taking this measurement-and the lowest of any of the sixteen institutions included in its 2007 "Confidence in Institutions" survey. It was also one of the lowest confidence ratings for any institution tested over the last three decades. The bottom line, concluded Gallup, was that "Americans are in a very sour mood."

David Broder, the Washington Post political columnist, interviewed California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for an Outlook column published on July 1, 2007. Schwarzenegger had thoughtfully taken the pulse of the people. He said, "People want bold leadership, somebody who is clear in his or her views, who can make tough decisions and who will reach across the aisle to address the important issues- health care, immigration, public safety, climate change, and the rest- someone who has a vision and a plan for the future, well beyond the next election."

He went on to say, "Voters admire you when you are willing to talk about difficult issues. Politicians think you have to be careful when dealing with powerful interests, but really you've got to be daring.

"People are looking for leaders who can bring people together. If the parties don't provide them, then a latecomer can come in from the outside and provide leadership that will work on the problems," he concluded.

In short, we are facing a wide-open contest, ripe for a dark horse, including a third-party or independent candidate.

And if you think this is just a refrain from Ross Perot in 1992, think again.

Here are the results of a series of three Gallup polls, the most recent one taken right before the critical midterm election that turned around the House and Senate majorities in favor of the Democrats. The data show that the United States is now facing a similar level of dissatisfaction to that which it faced before the last two major independent campaigns for president, in 1980 and 1992.

The trend is clear: The voter satisfaction chart (Figure 2) shows that in three years during the past three decades-November 2006, November 1992, and November 1979-the great majority of Americans were unhappy "with the way things are going in the United States." At these peak periods of dissatisfaction with the system, the electorate demonstrated the greatest receptiveness to change. In 1980 we had the "Reagan revolution," along with Anderson's third-party run, and in 1992 Perot reflected voter ire as Bill Clinton ultimately ended twelve years of GOP rule in the White House.

Today, the dissatisfaction level is virtually the same as it was sixteen years ago. Although the government's official numbers show solid and continuing growth in gross domestic product (GDP), public opinion polls suggest something quite different: an increasingly acute economic pinch among many working-class and middle-class Americans. The still relatively high level of the Dow Jones average does not accurately reflect what is going on in the hinterlands, where a substantial number of people struggle in low-paying jobs without health insurance. There are increasing concerns about high energy prices, the stability of the credit markets, and the impact of a falling dollar on the economy.

There are also serious issues apparent when we assess the economic well-being of all but upper-middle-class and wealthy Americans. This crisis has several specific components:

· Adjusted for inflation, real wages are stagnant and the better-paying jobs are hard to obtain.

· Americans fear they will lose their jobs to outsourcing, especially to India and China.

· Voters are concerned with rising costs in almost every area that matters to them: education, taxes, housing, child care, energy and gasoline, and health care.

· The long-term viability of Social Security remains a front- burner issue, as it has been ever since the Democrats raised the issue in the late 1990s and then George W. Bush took it up again after the 2004 election. The burden of retirement has also changed and it is now squarely on the backs of workers-a fundamental shift from past generations.

· The great American Dream of home ownership is becoming more difficult for many to realize. Housing prices have risen dramatically over the past ten years, notwithstanding the current softening of the market. Six in ten Americans say they are not living that dream. And many of those who are not living that dream feel they will never be able to live it.

· Subprime lenders are experiencing an increasing number of delinquencies and foreclosures as homeowners who took out adjustable- rate mortgages are facing higher and higher monthly payments.

Bottom line: Too many people have come to believe the American Dream is harder than ever to achieve and that the political system has largely failed to produce policies that improve their quality of life. Add to this the frustration they feel about America's image abroad, including our inability to solve the Iraq conundrum, and it's easy to understand why so many voters contend that we are a country in crisis and that our leaders are taking us in the wrong direction.

Frustration and unhappiness turn to anxiety and anger-and that's something the media and most politicians are slow to realize. But there's something bigger going on. The American people are clamoring to make a statement not just about individual candidates, but about the system itself.

Data collected by the University of Michigan's American National Election Studies reveals that the voters' trust in the federal government has plunged to historic lows. The electorate has doubts about the everyday issues, and added skepticism about the Iraq War. According to a research paper prepared at the University of Michigan, "The high levels of political alienation are unprecedented because they do not coincide with an economic downturn; instead, they appear to reflect widespread insecurity regarding the federal government's ability to resolve or otherwise cope with major problems confronting the country."

Along with this frustration with their leaders' failure to address their most important concerns, voters also have less confidence in their leaders' ability to solve any of the outstanding problems they do decide to tackle. Further, the American people also have come to distrust what their government is telling them. And according to the Michigan study, they are increasingly "more likely to support independent and third party presidential campaigns. . . ."

Americans sense that, in a changing world, the country's two main political parties are failing to recognize the gravity of our economic ills and seem incapable of providing the visionary leadership so sorely needed. People do not think of the leading Republican and Democratic candidates as "visionaries" or "leaders." They view them as adequate at best.

They see politicians in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike, reduced to partisan bickering and name-calling, at the expense of substantive discussions about the vital issues we face as a nation. They see the world around them, and the economy they depend on, changing before their very eyes. Yet the parties' debates seem oddly removed from the nation's pressing problems. Instead of debating withdrawal plans for Iraq, our parties became preoccupied in fa...

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