A record number of Americans are now claiming they are independents. This chart of party identification from Gallup does a great job of depicting in broad strokes the recent trajectory of American politics. From Gallup:

Party Identification, Yearly Averages, Gallup Polls, 1988-2011

In 2005 the disaster of the war in Iraq and the corruption of the Republican Congress starting turning votes away from the GOP and towards the Democratic party. As a result we saw big wins for Democrats in 2006 and 2008 as Americans stopped identifying with Republicans and starting seeing themselves as Democrats.

President Obama’s horrible mismanagement of his first two years in office caused a massive movement away from the Democrats and a small return to the GOP. This produced the big Republican wave of 2010.

Since taking control of the House the Republicans’ awful behavior has driven support for Congress to new lows and turned regular people against the GOP. This drop in support for the GOP, however, hasn’t caused people to start seeing themselves as Democrats again. The American people still feel burned by the Democrats’ failure to deliver for regular people from 2009-2010.

We have a country upset with both parties and the whole political system that is rigged to keep these two failed parties as our only choices. This dynamic is manifested in different ways. In addition to having a record number of people saying they are not aligning with either party, the young populist energy in the country is now flowing into direct political action that isn’t partisan, such as the occupy movement.