There is a crisis occurring in American politics.

The American people’s confidence in our government is gone. Only 25% of Americans are satisfied with the state of their country. We are growing alienated from the Democratic and Republican parties, which are dominated by ideologues who offer simplistic solutions. Their members care only about election and reelection, and how to frame issues to benefit their status within their party. At the same time, voters are craving real solutions to the real problems we face – affordable health care, the war on terror, energy independence, the environment, jobs and national security. This gap between the voters’ needs and what the two parties actually provide only grows with the uncertainty that surrounds the 2008 presidential race, as the economy heads towards recession.

The electorate thinks America has gone in the wrong direction. Both President Bush and Congress are at close to record-low levels of popular approval. Large portions of the American people do not think the political system can be fixed. The two major parties are unpopular and the electorate is polarized, as they have come to believe that neither side is willing or able to address important issues. The voters want change.

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The electorate does not want simply a change in leadership; for the Democrats to take over the White House or the Republicans to take control of Congress. Rather, they want something new and different; they want an independent candidate to run for president. A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University survey in the summer of 2007 found that 58 percent of voters said they would seriously consider voting for an independent in 2008. Furthermore, in recent polls, 60 to 80 percent of registered voters say they want an independent presidential candidate in the upcoming election. The 2008 presidential election offers an unprecedented opportunity for the right third-party ticket.

Independent voters now constitute the largest segment of the American electorate. According to the American National Election Studies at the University of Michigan and Stanford University, independents made up 38 percent of the electorate in 2004. In swing states like Florida, the number of unaffiliated voters has more than tripled since 1994, while in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the number has increased threefold. In New Jersey, unaffiliated voters now make up 58.7 percent of the electorate. The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are ignoring the widespread desire for fundamental change, paving the way for a third-party candidate to lead the charge for transformation.

Much overlooked polling underscores the appeal of a third party candidacy. A USA/Gallup poll conducted last summer reported that only a third of the electorate felt that the major parties adequately represented the American people. The percentage who believed that a third party was needed because the major parties so poorly represent the people has increased from 40 percent in late 2003, to 48 percent in the fall of 2006, to 58 percent in July 2007.

The numbers don’t lie: We are a nation of political moderates who want intelligent, workable solutions to the serious problems we face. The current cynical and dysfunctional political system divides us into red and blue Americas, making government less effective, responsive and efficient. Today 61 percent of Americans say they are not living the American Dream, and 75 percent say this dream is no longer realistic. 9 in 10 Americans agree that it is harder than ever before to achieve the American Dream.

Historically analysts have minimized the appeal of third-party candidates, and they are making the same mistake again. The last three independent movements – George Wallace in 1968, John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 – have garnered more support than anyone realized. Further, evidence shows that if voters thought the third-party candidate could actually win, his support would increase dramatically. Ross Perot actually led the 1992 race for several months before the election, and dissatisfaction with the government is has high, if not higher, now than it was in 1992.

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To gain an idea of which states a third-party candidate could do well in, one can look at the results from when Ross Perot ran in 1992. Perot did best (measured by places where he received at least 20 percent of the vote – remember only 34 percent is needed in a state to win in a three-way race) in the Northeast in states like New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine. In Maine he did his very best, winning 30 percent of the vote. Perot also had strong support from the Far West in California, Washington, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada. He did well in the Plains states, including Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota, along with the Upper Midwest in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The challenge for Perot, and the challenge a third-party candidate would face today, comes in the South, the Midwest, the border states of the old Confederacy, and the lower Northeast.

So what are the prospects of a third-party run? While I cannot say with certainty how any third-party candidate would fare in the upcoming election, recent polls have shown a moderate degree of initial support for independent runs. Ron Paul could receive 8 to 10 percent of voters, taking away conservative independents from John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Heatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post MORE. Ralph Nader could collect 5 to 7 percent from voters on the far left. And my detailed analysis of polls have indicated that Michael Bloomberg could receive close to 30 percent of the vote in a three or four-way race, with this number increasing if voters believe he has a real chance to win.

Of course, serious challenges stand in the way of a third-party candidacy. Candidates need an enormous amount of money to be competitive, viable and afford media buys. Third-party candidates often struggle to obtain as much media attention as the major party candidates, and even worse, they face an incredibly difficult battle to get on each state’s ballot. However, these obstacles have become less insurmountable largely due to advances in technology, specifically the Internet, and the 24-hour news cycle.

Even if the third-party candidate did not win the presidency, he or she could have a significant and far-reaching impact. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, a third-party candidate could play the role of the kingmaker, using his electoral votes to bargain with one of the major parties and form a coalition government. This government would govern in a bipartisan manner, promising a genuine division of responsibilities between the parties. At the very least, a third-party candidate can have a fundamental influence on policy debates, shaping the political agenda and encouraging consensus between the two major parties.

Regardless of whether there is a third-party candidate, we are in a time when politics have changed and where people are looking for different alternatives. The American electorate has reached a threshold – they are tired of the fighting among our political leaders and desperate to find someone who is not locked into the weary partisan debates. Whether he or she prevails and wins the election, builds a coalition government or simply influences the race by causing the candidates to adopt bipartisan, consensus-building solutions, the influence an independent candidate would have will be greater than ever before.

Douglas Schoen is the author of Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System (Random House, 2008). During the 1990s, he was a strategic advisor to President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhite House pushes back on claims Biden doing too little on voting rights The Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them Boeing's top lobbyist leaves company MORE. More recently, he has advised New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his 2001 and 2005 successful campaigns for Mayor. More information about Mr. Schoen can be found at douglasshoen.blogspot.com.