When I talk about politics with my husband, he often laments that there are only two parties to choose from in the U.S. On the other hand, I, even before graduate school, have always been skeptical of third parties; perhaps I was traumatized by Ralph Nader’s role in the 2000 election. And graduate school has honed this perspective – our method of allocating delegates (winner-takes-all) makes a two-party system the most likely and stable option.
However, in this election cycle, things are somewhat different. A new poll suggests that people are 10 points more likely to report they would vote for “the Republican candidate” compared to the “Democratic candidate” – without reference to who those candidates are.
We’ve read a lot about the anti-incumbent, anti-Democrat backlash in the media. And while we still have a two-party system, the strong conservative push is making the Republican primaries interesting. More moderate Republicans are in danger of being flanked on their right. And while this flanking has the potential to create a new party – indeed, the Republican party itself was formed around the Civil War as a new issue became dominent and a new alignment formed – I think it is more likely it simply shifts the ideological balance of the Republican party even further to the right.
But in Nevada, those people who are unsatisfied with the options presented by a two-party system have a different mechanism for expressing that dissatisfaction. Rather than staying home from the polls, or voting for a third-party candidate, they can enter a vote for “none of these candidates.” While it may still be considered a “thrown-away vote” by some, it provides interesting insight into the dissatisfaction of people with politics. And, just like a third-party candidate, it has the potential of shifting the outcome of the race.
So while I’m going to be watching all the races from now through November with interest, I’m going to pay special attention to Nevada’s “no” votes. If people are willing to spend their time to go to the polls and express an opinion – not in support of a candidate or party, nor even of an issue or ideology (like many third-party votes) – but instead to express their unhappiness with the system and their options, that speaks to an important dynamic – and may foretell a shift in American politics.