This year's presidential primary elections have brought several inconvenient truths into the public spotlight. Firstly, big money's influence on politicians plays a much larger role than previously assumed. Secondly, the corporate entertainment news media, our poor excuse for a fourth-estate, has little to no desire to report news that matters to the lives of working people. Lastly, both major establishment parties loathe Independent voters.
One need only observe the flood of dark-money pouring into super PACs on both sides and the obscene inequality in media coverage of the different candidates to see the first two assertions borne out. The third point is the most subtle but also the most pervasive within the parties, and for a sound psychological reason: Independent voters aren't part of the team.
In 1979, social psychologist Henri Tajfel proposed that our preferences and behaviors toward others is intricately connected to our group affiliations, forming the basis for in-group/out-group bias and discrimination. He called his proposal Social Identity Theory (SIT). According to SIT, a member of a group will tend to exaggerate both in-group similarities and out-group differences. This theory applies to any group membership, whether it be religious, nationalistic, sports fanaticism, or, you guessed it, political. As soon as you self-identify as a member of a group, these psychological principles begin affecting your objectivity.
This brings me to party affiliation and its connection to the primary nomination process. Political parties know about SIT and have been using its principles to their advantage for quite some time. It's no accident the majority of primaries in both parties are closed or semi-closed. By forcing primary voters to pick a team in order to participate, the parties have triggered the theory's "us vs. them" psychological response to amplify a person's preference for any candidate affiliated with their chosen party and more vehemently oppose anyone outside that affiliation. In essence, to become a party member is to drink the party's proverbial Kool-Aid.
For the parties, affiliation is akin to control. If they can get someone to join their team, it's much easier to influence that person in favor of their candidate and against their opponent. Once they get enough people supporting the party, candidate policy positions matter less and less; the "us" is always better than the "them," even when it's not. This is where the race to the bottom for political candidates begins.
The party elites are thus free to put forward any candidate who will promote their self-interests, mainly wealth and political power, which is precisely why both parties have been co-opted by big money. Just look at our current front runners for the presidential nomination: Hillary Clinton (hundred-millionaire) and Donald Trump (multi-billionaire). With these economic royalists as the nominees for their respective parties, the 2016 election will be between two candidates with the highest unfavorable ratings in U.S. history since favorability polling first began. Do the parties care? Of course not. They will simply invoke the "lesser evil" mentality and party members will lap it up because it's their team, thereby part of their identity, and no one wants to feel like their identity is flawed.
Unfortunately for the parties, 'Independent' has been the fastest growing political affiliation for the past decade, according to Gallup, overtaking a plurality of the American electorate with 42 percent (Democrat - 29 percent, Republican - 26 percent). While Independents' views vary widely across the political spectrum, their disdain for the two party status quo is shared equally. The parties, up to this point, have been happy to return their disdain by feigning interest in Independents for a couple of months every four years following the party conventions; this after doing everything within their power to shut them out of the candidate nomination process (closed primaries, superdelegates, voter roll purges, etc).
If the parties are to evolve and harness these discontented Independent voters, they will need to change the way they operate. Independents are not drinking the Kool-Aid and the lesser-of-two-evils argument is beginning to lose its potency as America's largest voting bloc wakes up to the perversion of democracy the party elites have wrought. The parties will need to open their doors and expand their platforms to meet Independent voters' needs or risk falling out of their favor for generations to come. If they don't, the stage will be set for a multi-party system to emerge and replace the current misrepresentation of the American electorate.