The Iowa caucuses which were among the tightest in recent memory. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio received 27.6, 24.3 and 23.1 percent of of the vote, respectively. The Democratic side was even closer, with Hillary Clinton barely edging out Bernie Sanders 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent. These numbers suggest that parties are having a hard time picking a candidate.
Most people would agree that the nominations for both major parties are still hotly contested, but the real question is why.
The answer, in the simplest possible terms, is because all the choices, for both parties, are awful. It's not just that I, the writer of this piece, think that there are no good options offered in the major parties. A tied or nearly tied vote within the parties suggests that the candidates must be all of equal strength and popularity among the voters; if any candidate were substantially better than any of the others they would have received enough votes to keep the race from being close. These tight races indicate that participants on the whole (both in the Iowa caucuses and in the national polls, which are slightly less narrow in their spread) find the "top tier" candidates all to be of similar quality.
If Americans as a group think all the candidates are equal, which they do, the next logical question is rather they find the candidates to be equally good or equally bad. Unless you happen to be one of their campaign staffers, the answer to this one is easy.
On the Republican side, your leaders are Donald Trump, an openly racist "winner" with no political experience who appears to be taking his speaking points from the Charlie Sheen book of world's craziest one-liners, and Marco Rubio, a senator who now opposes the immigration reform legislation that he wrote and sponsored himself in the Senate and whose most redeeming feature is his "presidential hair." Iowa's big winner, Ted Cruz, is a freshman senator who is openly disliked by his own party leaders and whose biggest claim to fame is shutting down the federal government for two weeks.
For the Democrats, you have Hillary Clinton, who was practically handed the nomination on a platter and had to do nothing to keep it except keep her head down, but has instead been wrapped up in scandal after scandal but whose chances of ending up in prison are approximately equal to what her chances of losing the nomination were six months ago. Alternatively, you can vote for a self-professed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who would not only be the most liberal president we've ever had but also the oldest, assuming he lives through the stress of this election.
In a year with more than twenty candidates offered between the two major parties, it's amazing that Americans haven't found a single one we've liked. Perhaps it has less to do with the candidates themselves, and is more a rejection of political theater on the whole — something most of us find equal parts annoying and pointless. Maybe we're tired of politics in general, disillusioned by a system that promises year after year to solve our problems but continuously fails in its endeavors. Maybe it's both, and the relative popularity of political outsiders and radicals (Trump, Cruz and Sanders) is an indicator that, more than anything else, we the people want real and major changes to the way our government operates.