BRADENTON, Fla. — Andrew Riffel pondered the looming choice between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump and posed a simple question.

“Why are these the two we have to choose from?” asked Riffel, a digital design student at Manatee Technical College in Florida and someone who refuses to call himself either a Democrat or a Republican.

“I don’t think we should be in a position like we are right now, choosing between the lesser of two evils,” added Joe Griner, who is studying major appliance repair and is officially independent.

Just days before the election, interviews with more than 40 independent voters in swing states underscore that the nomination of two deeply unpopular candidates for president is reinforcing a growing trend away from the Democratic and Republican parties, which more and more voters see as out of touch with their lives and out of date in a new century.

The number of free-agent voters registering as independent or unaffiliated is soaring, while Republican and Democratic numbers flatline.

The trend is clear in the way voters see themselves, particularly those 35 and younger, who routinely find that the parties have little meaning or relevance to their lives. Today, the largest bloc of voters 35 and younger – 41 percent – identify as independents, up 8 points from 2008.

Thirty-four percent call themselves Democrats, the same as in 2008. And 22 percent call themselves Republicans, down 5 points from eight years ago, according to Pew Research Center data.

The trend is also evident in how they register to vote.

Independent registrations have jumped since 2008 by 22.3 percent in states that keep registration data by party. Democrats over that same period increased 2.7 percent and Republicans 3.6 percent, according to research compiled by Michelle Diggles, senior political analyst for social policy and politics at Third Way, a think tank that promotes governing from the center.

David Hubbard, a student at Manatee Technical College, originally registered as a Republican because of his family upbringing.

But he found that “the only thing I got from them was a call every few years asking for money.” Eight years ago, he became unaffiliated.

Janae Petitjean, a student at Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina, also sees political parties as having little meaning. Her Republican mother “said if I registered Democrat she’d kick me out.” Petitjean saw herself in the political middle, though, and she too chose to be unaffiliated.

If the trend continues, Diggles said, the country will have more independent voters than Republicans by 2024 in states that register by party. Independent rolls already have soared by 40 percent since 2008 in Florida, North Carolina and five other states.

There’s no strong reason to identify, let alone register, with a party.

“I don’t think it matters,” Tyler DaSilva, a student at Valencia College in Orlando, said of aligning with a party.

Born more than a century ago, the two parties have grown out of date as machines for organizing like-minded voters and communicating the party sales pitch. Now voters can turn to social media instead.

In the first nine months of this year, for example, 109 million people on Facebook in the U.S. generated 5.3 billion likes, posts, comments and shares related to the election.

While no 2012 data are available, the Facebook numbers were way up from the same period in 2015, when 68 million people generated more than 1 billion likes, posts, comments and shares about the election.

And the parties’ most lucrative offerings – jobs, contracts, good fellowship among neighbors – are largely gone.

“There’s no reason to be aligned with a political party,” said Cynthia Plunkett, a marketing specialist from Tampa.

Instead, the independents view parties as controlled by big-money interests and too often engaged in infighting over policy and tactics.

Michele Woodhouse, a medical saleswoman from Raleigh, North Carolina, who’s now a Republican but plans to register as unaffiliated, sees too much bickering and not enough compassion for the changing needs of voters. “We sit around and do so much infighting,” she lamented of the local party.

Then, she said, officials emerge from their strategy sessions and tell voters, ” ‘I know what’s better for you.’ That infuriates me.”

Older unaffiliated voters aren’t surprised. Many stuck with the parties out of loyalty to age-old family ties, and because in many states only party members can vote in primaries. That doesn’t seem as important anymore.

“I watched the Watergate hearings as a kid. I didn’t trust anybody in government after that,” said Daniel McGuire, a waiter from Raleigh. Today’s politics confirm his view.

That’s especially true in an era when people don’t need parties to tell them about issues, and a party’s flaws are there for everyone to see, thanks to the internet.

That’s why when Aaron Thomas, a teacher from Raleigh, wanted to check on reports from critics that Clinton had ties to big business, he could do so quickly – and wound up backing independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s rival for the nomination.

Like any threatened institution, the two major parties are struggling to retain their grip on power, if not the very value of their brands.

In the Republican Party, the establishment lined up to deny its nomination to outsider Trump, only to fail time after time in the primaries.

In the Democratic Party, insiders strove to prop up Clinton against the surprisingly strong – and independent-fueled – challenge from insurgent Sanders and his vow to shake up a calcifying political system.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign after leaked emails revealed her behind-the-scenes scorn for Sanders. Her replacement, acting Chairwoman Donna Brazile, is under fire after emails revealed she had leaked a question to Clinton in a primary debate.

The next fight is whether to open more presidential primaries to independents, which helps outsiders like Sanders and Trump. This year, 15 states had completely open primaries, meaning they did not require voters to choose a party on their registration forms.

The turn away from the parties signals that the long-standing playbook on how to run for the White House – raise lots of money, win endorsements and rely on party loyalty and party officials to get out the vote – isn’t working. New rules have to be written.

What lies ahead in the 2020 presidential race and beyond is a system for picking presidents that can’t yet be defined.

What won’t get the independent voters in the fold is politics as usual or politics as rigid ideology. Hubbard recalled that his biggest reason for leaving the Republican Party was “the slow infiltration of far-right politics into the mainstream.”

In 2008, he found that candidates such as Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, and Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, “seemed to be pushing very divisive agendas. … That was a disgusting display.

“When the 2012 election rolled around, it looked to be more of the same, only expanded,” Hubbard said.

Ask the unaffiliated who seems appealing, and they rarely mention the usual big political names.

Instead, Tessa Loazer, a North Carolina State University senior, mentioned Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland. The Republican shocked the political establishment by winning in one of the nation’s most Democratic states, and he has consistently refused to back Trump.

Luke Perrin, a student from Hickory, North Carolina, likes Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, another early Trump critic who, like Hogan, prides himself on nonideological politics and is willing to criticize his party’s ideological wings.

Renegades in both parties have appeal.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, was an early, outspoken supporter of Sanders. She resigned as a Democratic National Committee vice chair in February, critical of the party’s decision to hold only six primary debates, a system she saw as rigged in favor of Clinton.

The one quasi-insider who does draw support is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. People laud her fight for a consumer protection bureau and find her constant tweeting candid and refreshing. “She’s the mirror to Trump on Twitter,” said Alex Hornaday, a student from Apex, North Carolina.

“The whole system is going to have to change,” said Duane Pike, an unaffiliated voter and a retiree from Land o’ Lakes, Florida.

After all, he said, “once our age group dies off, it’s going to be all no-party.”