Although voter frustration with politics as usual may end up changing our party system, it is not clear how it will do so. At the moment, both parties seem to be in some degree of flux. The Tea Party on the right and the Bernie Sanders supporters on the left appear to be creating splits in both parties between populists and people who are relatively pleased with the status quo. This may lead to a change in the party system.
Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the party system in the US has been relatively stable. The Democrats have been the party of racial minorities, of unionized workers, and of social liberals. The Republicans have been the party of middle and lower class white people who are not in unions and of social conservatives. While some changes have occurred, this system has largely remained stable. This, however, seems to be changing.
Beginning with the economic crisis of 2007-8, many voters seem to be angry about politics as usual. They appear to believe that the governmental system does not work for them and for people like them. We saw this with the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. This year, we are seeing it with the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. These two politicians embody populism in which the people who feel that they are “regular Americans” are extremely angry at the elites who have been in control of our government.
The question, then, is where this will lead. Will Trump and Sanders supporters somehow find a way to cover over their differences and unite in a party that will be populist? Will the rest of the current Democrats and Republicans unite in a more establishment party? If this happens, we will stop having a liberal party and a conservative party and will, instead, have a populist party and an elite/establishment party. This would be tremendously different than what we have now. Alternatively, will this populist anger prove to be a flash in the pan and will we soon return to politics as usual? It is impossible to know the answer to this. Only time will tell.