As the campaigning for the New Hampshire Primary Election on Jan. 23 revs into full swing, Americans’ dissatisfaction and exhaustion with the current political climate becomes increasingly evident. Swells of independent voters, curious Democrats, and frustrated Republicans make their way through the state to hear the candidates’ promises to American voters, and for many, to find an adequate alternative to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Many voters are grappling with the idea of a Biden-Trump rematch in November’s General Election, as both seem like the likely nominees from their respective parties.
Dean Phillips, a Democrat seeking to challenge President Biden for the nomination, hosted an event at the Rochester Performing Arts Center on Jan. 21, where New Hampshire resident, Lila Hartstein, expressed her frustration with the thought of a 2020 election repeat. “I’m looking for another candidate besides Biden or Trump. In the past, I’ve always voted for a Democrat, but I’m just not pleased with anything that’s been going on lately.” Hartstein noted that Phillips is at least acknowledging this fatigue, as he speaks to the “exhausted majority” in several of his events around New Hampshire.
Phillips is not the only candidate hoping to use Trump and Biden’s lack of appeal to his advantage, as Nikki Haley rallies supporters at her event by priding herself as a beacon of hope for the Republican party. At an event at the Keene Country Club on Jan. 20, Haley urged New Hampshire residents to break away from the idea of a Trump-Biden showdown. “The day we decide that we’re going to leave all of this behind is the day that we’re going to take a breath for the first time,” Haley said. “Americans are tired.”
With a swath of New Hampshire voters growing tired of the choices the Democratic and Republican parties are offering, the state of American politics is called into question. Is the New Hampshire constituency’s disenchantment with the major Democratic and Republican candidates a signal of a much larger American dissatisfaction with the two-party system?
Since the 18th century, the two-party system has been one of the longest-standing American traditions. Robert Lockwood Mills, author of several books on the American political system, writes about the failure of challenges to the two-party system in his book The Two-Party System Nobody Asked For. “Challenges to the two-party system, historically, have never addressed the legitimacy of the two-party structure itself, which remains immune from attack,” he wrote. Instead, third parties focus on a sole issue they seek to change, rather than alter the status quo party system as a whole.
Americans are growing increasingly resentful of their options for political candidates in the twenty-first century. In 2022, the Pew Research Center found that 39% of Americans wish there were more political parties to choose from America, on account of the two major parties not representing their views or not offering worthwhile candidates. The rhetoric surrounding third parties and “wasting a vote” often dissuades Americans from wholeheartedly pursuing a candidate from a third party, which further perpetuates the existence of a two-party system.
Andrew Filiault, a member of the Keene City Council, recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Independent due to President Biden and the Democratic National Convention’s choice to skip his state’s first-in-the-nation primary.
“I’m a lifetime Democrat,” he said. “I don’t know about two months from now. It was basically because Biden and the DNC decided to ignore New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, which I found insulting, so I switched over to Independent.”
Filiault’s discontent is representative of his constituency base as well. “I’ve had many of them,” referring to his constituents in Keene, “confidentially get ahold of me, almost feeling guilty. Saying, we switched over to Independents, what do you think about us voting for Nikki Haley? Almost like looking for permission or forgiveness or whatever. And I said, well, I am,” Filiaut said.
Filiault and his constituency reflect the flaws of a purely Democrat versus Republican political climate. With polarization increasing in the last decade, the two main parties no longer reflect the views of the average American. Filiault analogized the extremism on both sides to sports. “If you take everybody out, you put us on a football field. Most of us stand between the 40-yard lines. We see each other, we might disagree, but we can talk amicably. The problem is the wing nuts are in the end zones getting all the attention and calling the shots.”
The disenchantment of voters with their current options is also cross-cutting generations. Eddie and Elias Smith, a father and son that attended Nikki Haley’s meet and greet in Manchester, N.H. on Jan. 21, both expressed their negative feelings towards the trajectory of the 2024 election. Eddie Smith, Elias’ father, remarked on the “ridiculously small field.” “I’m registered as a Democrat. I have my entire life been a Democrat, but the party left me long ago,” he said.
Eddie’s son, Elias Smith, who will be voting for the first time in the New Hampshire Primary echoed his father’s sentiments. “Another Trump-Biden matchup would be really damaging to the country.”
With several primary elections and caucuses left before Democratic and Republican nominees are secured, more states will have the ability to express their staunch support or dismay with the parties’ candidate selection. All eyes will soon be on South Carolina in the coming month, where Trump and Haley will continue to fight for Republican votes and President Biden will make his first true campaign effort.