I was in college when I first became acquainted with the concept of political realignments and the party systems model. My professor had the class reading the widely renowned work of political scientists Walter Dean Burnham and A. James Reichley.
The idea is fairly simple: American politics goes through decades-long cycles known as realignments wherein one party system changes into another following a critical election where the incumbent party is utterly rejected by the electorate, and the non-incumbent party is ushered in. Such elections typically come about when there is a major unaddressed issue.
Altogether, political scientists generally agree that there have been six U.S. party systems—the most recent dominated by the Republican Party, which capitalized on the southern backlash to the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in order to sell the economic ideas of Milton Friedman.
Today, we may be on the cusp of a seventh system; The GOP is on the verge of collapse, and the Democratic Party is splitting.
In a speech at the Republican National Convention, GOP pollster Frank Luntz, said the following of the party’s prospects with the millennial generation:
We have lost. It’s not like we are losing, we have lost that generation. And I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, independent, none of the above. The fact that 58 percent say socialism is the better form of economics..a whole generation is being taught by professors who voted for Bernie Sanders.
Ever the analyst, Luntz’ warning was based on his own research of 18 to 24 year-olds. As The Intercept reported in February, the pollster found that millennials are far more liberal than their parents—their “favorite” political figure being Bernie Sanders. A majority preferred socialism to capitalism, and their top concerns (in order) were corruption, greed, and inequality.
What is truly unique about these voters is that they are devoid of confidence in our political system. A poll by Mic from July 2014, of 666 people under 34 revealed that the words they most associated with our system were “corrupt,” “fucked,” and “broken.” For the party that has been dominant for the last 40 years, this situation does not bode well.
Therein lies the problem for the GOP in attracting younger voters. With the country facing the greatest wealth disparity since the Gilded Age, and the hands of government tied due to the largely unfettered influence of special interests, the Republican Party seems content to let “freedom” take its course—which means inaction and little oversight by government.
We millennials are both politically astute and keenly aware of reality that our own prospects are worse than our parents’ were at our age. As a generation, we are desperate for change.
If 2016 is any indication, the GOP has no more viable electable presidential candidates. George W. Bush recently announced he feared he would be “the last Republican president,” and that could very well be the case. Donald Trump has taken over by rhetorically abandoning laissez-faire economics.
The problem is, young voters still are not biting because of his social policies. Even if he wins, it is highly likely he will be a one term president as more millennials vote. And the GOP has nobody to follow him.
This presents a major problem for Republicans because no party in U.S. history has survived long without the ability to win the presidency.
According to The Hill, a delegate in the crowd during Luntz’ speech remarked, “We’re screwed.” This was an astute observation. The pollster’s message that the only path forward for Republican Party was biding time and getting conservative professors in the colleges is revealing: The culture war is lost, and Milton Friedman’s ideas just don’t shine like they used to.
This election is unquestionably the start of the end of the GOP—but the decline is almost guaranteed to take years given the stranglehold the party has on Congress.
That said, the fall of the Republicans has implications across the board. As the Democrats become the dominant party, the rift that was exposed between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters in the primary, will likely blow wide open in the coming decade, as more millennials come into the process, and more Republicans change their party affiliation.
reported in May, that, according to research by Crowdpac, already “[m]ore than 500 contributors who gave more than $200 to Republican candidates earlier in this election cycle, are now giving money to Clinton rather than the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.” And those individuals are by no means alone. Former Reagan adviser Doug Elmets also announced that he was planning on voting for the former Secretary in November. At the same time, roughly half of millennial Sanders voters say they would vote for a third party.
Given this situation, it is possible that within 10 years we could see a new major political party rise up to the left of the Democrats—especially if Jill Stein of the Green Party wins a significant percentage of the vote in the fall.
Author’s note: It is unlikely that that third party will be the Libertarian Party because the economic agenda is essentially the same as the GOP’s.