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No one would disagree that this has been an unpredictable election cycle. But perhaps the biggest surprise is the success of two very unlikely candidates, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Though originally written off as iconoclasts, Sanders and Trump have both made a name for themselves by embracing their anti-establishment appeal.

But what does it say about our democratic system that the two most exciting forces on either side of the political spectrum are both at odds with their own parties? By all accounts, we were supposed to be living in a period of dogmatic political polarization. So how is it that both candidates — Sanders and Trump — can stray so far from the party line and be celebrated for it?

All of this points to two political parties that have fallen out of touch with their bases. I’d argue, however, that neither party was really in touch with its base to begin with.

A recent study by researchers at Princeton and Northwestern shows the deep divide between voter interests and actual United States policy. The report, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interests Groups, and Average Citizens,” found that “mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence [on government policy].” This means that neither party, Democratic nor Republican, has done much to represent the requests of their constituencies.

The report also goes on to say which groups do have a significant independent influence on government policy, namely “economic elites and organized groups representing business.” That’s something we’d expect to find in a plutocracy rather than a democracy. This has also had a noticeable effect on shaping not only the policies but also the ideologies of the modern Democratic and Republican parties.

In a recent article for The New York Times entitled “How Did the Democrats Become Favorites of the Rich?" political writer Thomas B. Edsall details how, in recent decades, the main distinguishing factor between the two parties has become cultural rather than economic. While quoting the study, “Why Hasn’t Democracy Solved Rising Inequality?” Edsall writes, “The Democratic Party pushed through the financial regulation of the 1930s, while the Democratic party of the 1990s undid much of this regulation in its embrace of unregulated financial capitalism.”

This proves that the influence of corporate interests has led the Democratic Party to adapt the economic philosophy of the right. But with this change has come a deeper division among the two parties regarding social issues. Interestingly, this is the same major force separating Trump and Sanders supporters.

Though both candidates have galvanized support by branding themselves as populists, Trump and Sanders have split the economically frustrated masses along lines of cultural ideology.

On one side you have Donald Trump who utilizes old-school Republican race-baiting. By running on a platform of primarily white identity politics, Trump has promised working class citizens that he’ll “Make America Great (White) Again” by ridding the country of immigrants and Muslims.

On the other side you have Bernie Sanders, a product of the Civil Rights Era. And although he is noticeably less vocal than Trump when it comes to his own stance on social issues, I believe it’s fair to say that the two of them stand on opposite sides of the debate.

Although Trump and Sanders are wildly different political figures, it’s undeniable that both campaigns represent the same fundamental issue: the huge disconnect between the American population and the political parties who purportedly represent them.

The rise of these two dissenting candidates, Sanders and Trump, points to a systematic failure of American democracy. Or, if we’re putting it bluntly, a failure of the two parties to keep their constituents in line. I say this not to sound cynical, but because I truly believe it’s no coincidence that the opinion of citizens has little effect on government policy.

To once again quote from the Princeton and Northwestern report, "What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of ‘populistic’ democracy ... In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule ... ”

Of course that’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re a member of that majority. That’s why, I believe, Sanders and Trump have accumulated such mass support. This is what happens when a populace comes to terms with an unpopulist democracy. But without a huge increase in voter turnout, unpopulism will stand.

Cameron Dichter is a College sophomore from Philadelphia, studying English. His email address is “Real Talk” usually appears every other Monday.

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