Of course, as the crescendo of recent Tea Party coverage has told us, some parts of that conservative base may have grievances with the GOP, and thus be unwilling to formally identify with it. But that trend points to another explanation of what is driving the rise in unaffiliated voters, one that may undercut its electoral importance. According to a recent Pew survey, the political mood of the country is pretty much, “everybody hates everything”—or at least, everybody hates all the big institutions, the big political parties apparently included. It’s no surprise, then, that affiliation with those parties may be lagging.

But if that is what’s happening, it doesn’t necessarily follow that voters’ underlying political views are shifting—meaning, again, that these “unaffiliateds” are not a discrete block to court. Even more importantly, it doesn’t mean that the available choices are changing. If “frustrated voters” are “cut[ting] ties” with the parties, as the story’s headline has it, that might matter if the frustration is not evenly distributed—if, for example, one party loses more of its connection with its donors, organizers, and the volunteers. But come Election Day, when voters head to the polls, those whose views align with the Democrats’ will pull that lever, and the same goes for the GOP. And as for the “none of the above” party? It won’t be on the ballot.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.