Columnist Olin Rose-Bardawil: Americans want more than two choices

Olin Rose-Bardawil

Olin Rose-Bardawil


Published: 06-13-2024 7:18 PM

As the 2024 election has heated up, I have noticed increased discussion of the role of independent and third-party candidates in American politics.

As many know, these conversations have emerged in light of Robert F. Kennedy’s independent campaign for the presidency, which has been the subject of huge controversy and anger, especially among Biden supporters.

Heightened public awareness of independent candidates is not only the result of Kennedy’s candidacy, though.

Instead, I believe, it reflects Americans’ general frustration with the state of American politics. It is a reminder, fundamentally, of the fact that our system is broken, and that most Americans won’t put up with it for much longer.

When considering the role of independent and third-party voters in the U.S., I think it is important to consider some facts about these groups. Mainstream media would have us believe that our country is fractured between Republicans and Democrats, and that identification with other parties is negligible. Recent statistics, however, tell a starkly different story.

A 2023 Gallup poll, for example, found that a record 49% of Americans identify as politically independent. This is up from 31% in 2004. Frustration with the two-party stalemate that currently controls our politics is especially high among younger Americans. According to Pew Research, nearly half of those ages 18 to 49 say they often wish there were more parties to choose from when going to the ballot box.

These numbers suggest we could be framing our political discussions the wrong way. As Axios reporter Mike Allen notes, “we spend our days captivated by people with the most power and the biggest mouths, but a rising number of Americans want something else — political independence.”

Speaking for myself, “political independence” means liberation from the deeply reactionary and hyper-polarized two-party system that is not only destined but designed to anger and divide.

If this sense of independence were to manifest itself in the 2024 election, it would look like more than two voices being represented on the presidential debate stage. Ideally, this would not only include RFK Jr., who I understand peoples’ concerns about — it would also include voices speaking on behalf of the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and other platforms. In this ideal political world, Americans would not be forced to choose between an unexciting candidate and an authoritarian, demagogic one.

If you are like many Americans, you will quickly dismiss this vision. I am sure some will view it as the starry-eyed fantasy of someone who is “too young” to understand the reality of American politics. This cynicism, I believe, stems from the fact that we have been socialized to think in terms of the two-party system’s confines.

We don’t have to accept these terms, though. And an increasing number of people, it seems, are realizing that we are not powerless in the face of political duopoly.

One of these voices is Lois Gagnon, who, in a Gazette letter to the editor, called out the political establishment for its assertion that it is “perfectly reasonable to disenfranchise small parties … and their voters” to achieve its aims.

The writer goes on to remind readers that despite claims that candidates like Kennedy are simply “spoilers,” there is “no such thing as a spoiler in a democracy.” That’s exactly right.

This brings me to one of the most common arguments against the existence of third-party candidates in this election: that we cannot risk Trump getting reelected to support someone besides Biden.

I completely understand this argument, as I also believe Trump poses a major threat if reelected. I recognize that some compromises might have to be made to ensure this outcome is avoided.

But I think that this argument misses the point when it comes to the two-party system. To those who believe “now is not the time” to disrupt the stranglehold of the duopoly on our politics, I would ask, when will it “be the right time?” I will not be surprised if a similar line of reasoning is employed in the next presidential election when Trump no longer poses a threat but someone else does.

The fact of that matter is that Trump will not be a factor in American politics forever. There will come a time when there is more to consider when casting your ballot than how to keep a convicted felon out of the White House.

Considering this, we must prepare for a post-Trump political landscape. More importantly, we must look forward to this future with optimism. Politics can be about more than despising Trump. Think about how amazing that sounds!

To those afraid to think outside the box that is the two-party system, I would ask, what do you really value? What issues matter the most to you? In what direction do you want your country to go?

It should be these questions that guide our politics — not the hatred of the other side. If you truly consider these questions, you might come up with a vision of the future that truly excites you. You might even picture a society that has declared its “political independence.” If so, you won’t be the only one.

Olin Rose-Bardawil of Florence is a new columnist whose writings from a youth perspective appear monthly in the Gazette. He is a student at the Williston Northampton School and the editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Willistonian.