Read a great Wikipedia article on Independent Voters - the reasons for their increasing numbers, as well as the relevancy of political parties. I find myself agreeing with the section of the article dealing with the impact of dealignment
Scholars who conclude that there has been a significant rise in independent voting and a concomitant dealignment of the American political system also often conclude that democracy has suffered as a result.
I do agree with this.
These scholars argue that political parties play a critical supportive role in democracies. Parties regulate the type and number of people seeking election, mobilize voters and enhance turnout, and provide the coalition-building structure essential for office-holders to govern. Parties also serve as critical reference groups for voters, framing issues and providing and filtering information. These functions, it is claimed cannot otherwise be accomplished, and democracies collapse without them. Only political parties serve these roles.
Ditto. There are some people who look to groups like PDA and DFA to fill roles that they feel the Democratic Party can't or won't perform anymore. That is why I feel that President Obama's top campaign advisors morphed his Obama For America campaign into Organizing For America to create an alternative group for Obama supporters to join instead of the Democratic Party after the November 2008 elections.
Dealignment—the rise in the number of independent voters—has an extremely deleterious effect on democracy, these scholars claim. Dealignment leads to the rise of candidate-centered elections in which parties and ideologies play little part. Without parties, candidates rely ever-more heavily on mass media for communication, political action committees (PACs) for funds, special interest groups for staff, and political consultants for expertise. The increasing reliance on mass communication leads to a withering of political discourse as the sound bite and an emphasis on the horse-race aspect of politics becomes the norm.
This also tends to increase the importance and value of money in politics, since mass media, staff, and consultants all cost money.
This limits the amount and kind of information the public receives, leading to less choice for voters. When voters can stay at home and watch television rather than participate in civic life, the public no longer perceives the need to become involved in democracy—and so the civic life of the democracy withers.
And we wonder why voter turnout continues to drop as money becomes more important than ever in politics?
As PACs and interest groups become more important, the number of people speaking to the public, providing political information and different political choices and views, declines. Additionally, PAC and interest group spokespeople may not be representative of the public or the groups they claim to speak for, creating disenfranchisement of various (often minority) groups.
Other than the increasing number of talking heads on TV - most of whom seem to speak for their corporate masters - I would tend to agree with this last statement. It seems that no one is able to speak for me unless I pay them to speak for me. At the national and state level, my party's elected public leaders seem to have forgotten our party platform.
As independent voting and ticket-splitting rise, parties seek to insulate themselves from the whipsaw effect of elections. The power of incumbency becomes increasingly important, and accessibility by the public declines. Parties seek increasingly moderate positions in order to stay electorally viable, further limiting political choice ("both parties look and sound the same"). As the parties distance themselves from the average voter and seem to offer limited policy options, dealignment worsens. As ideology plays less and less a part in elections, it becomes more and more difficult for parties to forge coalitions of like-minded officeholders.
But they do seem to be able to forge sub-coalitions of opposite-minded officeholders - like the Blue-Dog Dems in our Party. There doesn't seem to be an opposite number group in the Republican Party - that party seems to have no problem dealing with the Tea Party taking on moderate Republicans while we get nothing but grief when platform-oriented Dems take on Blue Dogs.
Governmental deadlock becomes common, further encouraging independent voting as citizens perceive "their" party to be ineffective. As ticket-splitting rises, divided government becomes the norm, making it even more difficult for office-holders to enact and implement policies. Politics becomes increasingly volatile, with first one party and then another governing.
Thus we saw the whip-sawing back and forth from 2004 to 2006, to 2008 then 2010.
Although parties once held politicians accountable for their actions, their increasing irrelevance in politics leads to a decline in accountability (and thus even less responsiveness and less democracy). The "Imperial Presidency" becomes more important, since single officeholders with great power become the only politicians capable of governing.
And we wonder why Obama won't give up the power that he inherited from Bush even though he ran on reforming the excesses of power?
Other scholars conclude that dealignment has not harmed democracy. Political parties have adapted to the realities of large numbers of independent voters, it is argued.
Have we adapted for the good, or just because?
The candidate-centered election has actually revitalized parties, and led to new party structures and behaviors which have allowed parties to survive in the age of mass communication. A minority view, however, suggests that the evidence for a resurgence of political parties too equivocal, and that scholars lack the theoretical concepts to make such judgments.
I feel that scholars lack the practical experience to make such judgments.
Yet another strain of thought has concluded that "realignment" is occurring. The slow "secular realignment" is not yet over, these scholars say. Regional differences in the level and impact of dealignment simply point up the fact that major shifts in political coalitions are occurring. Slowly but surely, these studies conclude, realignment is happening and will be obvious within a generation. These scholars argue that the surge in independent voters which began in the 1960s has ended, and that there are distinct signs that partisanship is on the rise again.
I can see that partisanship is on the rise, but I feel that the folks with money want to prevent grassroots party activists from taking advantage of that partisanship. Look at the rise of the Tea Party. It's almost totally funded by the same folks who have made big money through the governance by the regular Republican Party. The Tea Party is sort of a conservative caucus within the GOP, but then again it really isn't. Tea Party types aren't running for party office within the GOP. They are just doing their own thing and running their own candidates for elected public office. They aren't actually taking over the Republican Party.
So now instead of trying to build our party, we actually see some Dems encouraging the formation of third parties which will do nothing more than siphon away some of the very voters that we need to become active partisan Dems.