Battleground Wisconsin: Some voters feel unrepresented by two major parties

MADISON, Wis. – In a heavily divided political climate, some voters feel lost in the middle. Tired of choosing between what they call two sides of the same coin, they’re looking for another option.

Heading into election season Edwin Pfaff from Mauston said he’s been questioning his allegiance to the Republican party.

Pfaff said he is turned off by what he views as the party catering to extremes and placing politics over public health.

“Nobody really wanted to sacrifice at all,” he said “Sometimes sacrifices need to be made, you know, we hate to see business hurt but we want people to be healthy.”

He also said he’s managed to stay engaged but his faith in politics altogether has really started to wane particularly in the last three years.

“They’ve just become more volatile and I don’t like that trend,” he said. “It’s hard for somebody like me to find somewhere to identify with, and it’s gotten to the point where, you know, that we’re more apt to see extremes.” 

It’s a feeling of discontent with the two major political parties that’s shared by other voters, once his political adversaries.

Andrew Driscoll from Janesville went from advocating for Democrats, including campaigning and canvassing door to door, to feeling completely unrepresented by them.

“I don’t feel like I’ve abandoned the Democratic Party,” Driscoll said. “I feel like if anything, they’ve abandoned me.”

He said he no longer believes the Democratic Party serves the people, specifically the working class, and that they instead serve corporations.

“I’ve noticed, you know, my life, over my 31 years, has not gotten better economically,” he said. “So regardless of what political party has been in power, you know, economically, I’ve continued to struggle.”

He said he is also dissatisfied by what he considers the party’s inaction around abortion and medicare for all.

Both Pfaff and Driscoll want to see an alternative to the usual Democrats and Republicans on the ballot, something independent libertarian Brit Grimmer from Dodgeville has been calling on for years.

“It doesn’t matter which party is going to win,” Grimmer said. “There’s only a few people, types of people, like maybe 5% of the people in this country, that’s going to benefit from the politicians that are there.”

According to election expert Mike Wagner from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Grimmer is actually right, to a point. He said modern political parties serve their activists and donors, but seeing a third party stand a chance is highly unlikely because neither Republicans or Democrats want to take that risk.

“Especially in a state like Wisconsin,” Wagner said, “Democrats and Republicans know that statewide elections are something akin to a coin flip.”

He also said the two parties make it hard for independent candidates to not only win elections but even get on the ballot or be present at political debates.

Still, Pfaff, Driscoll and Grimmer said they’re voting with their conscience at the polls, even if it means losing now. They’re thinking long-term and hoping if the parties lose enough supporters they’ll be pushed to change their stance on the issues they believe matter most.

“This is the kind of thing that has happened many times over the course of American history,” said Wagner. “Parties are willing to change what they stand for.”

The three voters also said they would like to see changes to term limits and caps on campaign spending.

Wagner said roughly one-third of people identify as independent but most tend to lean one way or another. He said there are only 10% to 13% who have no affiliation with either of the two major parties.

This story is a part of News 3 Now’s Battleground Wisconsin primary election coverage. For an in-depth look at the race and the candidates running, click here.