Unsatisfied consumers: Disruption thrives when the status quo is not serving the needs of a changing public. Netflix, Amazon, and Buzzfeed wouldn't exist if people had been satisfied with the way the entertainment, retail, and media industries were operating. The same American public that forced change on those industries is equally, if not more, annoyed with the political system.
A majority of Americans hold a negative view of the GOP, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey. The Democratic Party's image is underwater, meaning that more people disapprove than approve of the party. The percentage of Americans identifying themselves as independents is rising steadily, from 31 percent in 2004 to 44 percent in September, according to a Gallup study cited by Democratic consultant Doug Sosnik.
"Americans' long-brewing discontent shows clear signs of reaching a boiling point," Sosnik wrote a year ago. "And when it happens, the country will judge its politicians through a new filter—one that asks, 'Which side of the barricade are you on?' "
While many independents will vote Democratic or Republican, they're doing so out of a lack of choice. Last year, NBC/Esquire commissioned a nonpartisan analysis of the electorate and determined that a full majority, 51 percent, make up a "New American Center," voters whose attitudes and ideologies leave them without a natural home inside either the GOP or the Democratic Party. These voters share common values that run counter to the polarized, zero-sum ways of the two major parties.
Exacerbating this disconnect between the parties and the people is the public's sour mood. Huge majorities of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. They see a grim future for themselves, their children, and their country. They believe their political leaders are selfish, greedy, and short-sighted—unable and/or unwilling to shield most people from wrenching economic and social change.
Ambitious disruptors: A handful of politicians are looking over the horizon and offering themselves as an alternative to the GOP and the Democratic Party. Independent candidate Greg Orman threatens to unseat GOP Sen. Pat Roberts in heavily Republican Kansas. Republican-turned-independent Larry Pressler has put the South Dakota race into play. A libertarian pizza delivery man may gobble up enough voters to determine the Senate race in North Carolina. In Alaska, Democrats are backing an independent Republican for governor.
In governor's races, nearly a dozen incumbents are in various levels of danger; their challengers seizing the mantle of change.
Still, this year's elections won't result in a wave of newly elected independents, nor will a record number of incumbents lose their jobs. The Old Guard will conclude that the status quo is safe. But the Old Guard is a ship of fools, living on borrowed time. They remind me of smug newspaper publishers, music moguls, and bookstore-chain operators who were abruptly disrupted out of business.