Elections 2016: The End of the American Two-Party System?

With the Iowa caucuses over and the results from New Hampshire in, the 2016 elections are officially underway. The last decade in American politics has been momentous and dynamic, to say the least.

The long held bifurcation of the American polity along Republican and Democratic lines are beginning to fissure. The split is occurring within the philosophical seams of both parties. The ideological fracturing has manifested itself into two large protests turned movements; the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. These movements epitomized the growing frustration on both sides of the partisan spectrum .

Electoral politics in the US are at a historic watershed moment. The cadre of candidates vying for the presidency in both parties demonstrates the diverse appeal and ideology that currently exists. With the economy barely sputtering along, threats to security, and politicians who have become corporate lackeys ; a perfect storm is brewing for a potential tectonic shift in the American electoral landscape. The elections of 2016 can be the beginning of a transformation for US politics in which it is no longer defined by the traditional two-party system.

Establishmentarians vs. Ideologues

In the last decade, the approval rating of Congress has sled towards single digits . The continued revulsion of Congress is non-partisan, with frustration and dislike projected at both parties because of their continued morass in government. The unrelenting rhetoric of candidates claiming to be outsiders and non-adherent to “DC values” has been employed so incessantly that Americans have become weary of those claiming such labels. Most candidates who win elections on the promise of changing things eventually find themselves warped into the “Washington Black Hole” where Faustian bargains are concocted in order to ensure reelections for statesmen turned into career politicians. The economic crash of 2008 was a major catalyst behind the manifestation of the people’s ire into these two movements. The unremitting discontinuity between the people and their representatives had grown too much.

The Tea Party was the conservative riposte for their discontent. Conservatives and Republicans came out in groves under the banner of the Tea Party to represent the symbolic Bostonian event that captured their forefather’s disgust with oppressive rule. They began to view the Washington establishment akin to the British rulers of the colonies.

Thereafter, the liberal malaise materialized into the Occupy Wall Street protest. They were largely comprised of the younger liberal demographic who suffered extremely under the economic crash and its aftermath. Their unemployment situation, which is one of the greatest in American history , was further exacerbated with large amounts of student debt and a bleak future that was entirely novel to them and their expectations. They came together across the country to rebuke the crony capitalistic structure they perceived had destroyed their future.

Despite their polar opposite in principles and beliefs, both movements were very similar in their core aggravation; the continued amalgamation of politics with corporate interests had created an establishment system. This system would shroud itself in the veil of either party’s supposed political ideology. When elections were near, the “political” cloak would encase the politician only to have it lifted afterwards and serve the interest of corporations more so than people whom they were supposed to represent. Both movements yearn for an alteration in the status quo. They wanted ideologues to replace the establishment candidates.

Emergence of New Parties

With the economic unease and continued rule by establishment candidates, the American electoral has come to the realization that they will no longer be confined within two ideological paradigms whose significant difference appears to be social issues. The continued loyalty of these two parties to the corporate interest has made the voters realize they want change. This is the reason why the 2016 American elections have brought two extreme candidates to the forefront; Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both candidates are anomalies in the election. To the chagrin of both parties’ leaders, they have made great strides and garnered tremendous support from their party members. But on a deeper note, Republicans and Democrats are witnessing the fracturing of their ideological nuclei.

Bernie Sanders has allowed the more progressive and socialist demography of Democrats to arise. The long held phobia of being labelled a “socialist” in American politics is no longer true as Sanders proudly embraces the term . Sanders champions the far left of the Democratic Party who appears to have been sidelined until now. The split amongst the Democrats are between those who want a more centrist or Clintonian approach versus those who desire a more progressive and socialist agenda.  

Donald Trump has tapped into a part of the Republican electorate that has long been ignored. The Republican Party is at a crossroad between those who have been the mainstream establishment conservatives versus those who adhere to the philosophy of the Tea Party. The latter voters are tired of politics as usual. Trump is perceived by many on the right as a savior who can restore the ideals essential to conservatism. The fissure amongst conservatives is between those who believe that religion and morality should be the core of the party whereas others yearn for a return to a more Libertarian/Eisenhower Republicanism.

The 2016 election has already proven to be one of the most anomalous elections in American political history. The long time dominance of the establishment over the parties and candidates are beginning to slip as both atypical candidates Trump and Sanders have soared in the polls and continue to build momentum. More importantly, this election can become the seminal moment in American history where the US electorate transcends the traditional two-party system to a multiparty one. The economic slump, bleak future, and overtly tremendous growth of corporate influence in politics has combined to create a whirlwind that can forever change the fundamentals of American elections.

Luis Durani
Luis Durani
Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani