Gallup: Number of Americans Identifying Selves as Independents Hits Record High of 40 Percent

A new Gallup Poll has bad news for both political parties and (relatively) good news for Democrats and bad news for Republicans:

The percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011, as is common in a non-election year, although the 40% who did so is the highest Gallup has measured, by one percentage point. More Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31% to 27%.

What does this mean? It means than more than ever before a party that wants to win MUST win over independent voters — you know, those voters that some Democratic and Republican base partisans suggests are so “stupid” that they can’t join a party, or are mushy, or who might not be liberal or conservative enough. It means a party that truly wants to win is going to have to broaden its ideological umbrella to woo and invite in people who might see things differently and have other tastes (for instance they might not like tea).

These results are based on more than 20,000 interviews conducted in 20 separate Gallup polls in 2011. Gallup has computed annual averages of party identification since 1988, when it began regularly conducting interviews by telephone. The prior high percentage of independents was 39% in 1995 and 2007.

Gallup records from 1951-1988 — based on face-to-face interviewing — indicate that the percentage of independents was generally in the low 30% range during those years, suggesting that the proportion of independents in 2011 was the largest in at least 60 years.

In recent decades, Gallup has observed a pattern of increased independent identification in the year prior to a presidential election, and a decline in the presidential election year. The only exception to that was in 1992, when independent identification increased from 1991, perhaps the result of President Bush’s high approval ratings in 1991 and Ross Perot’s independent presidential candidacy in 1992.

The Republicans’ problem right now is that their primary debates are creating a picture of a party that has some candidates who have contempt for moderates and centrists. The eventual GOP nominee is more than ever going to have to move to the center. Can he do that without risking some members of the Republican base sitting home or voting for a third party on election day?

And remember the context: President Barack Obama is clearly trying to carve out a position for himself as the most centrist candidate in the race.

Still, Gallup finds:

  • More independents lean Republican than Democratic but if you pencil in other factors the breakdown is tied for both parties. I am now on the second rung of a national tour. This fall in extensive travels along the East Coast and Midwest I was shocked at the number of Republicans who said they have now become independents because they are turned off by their party’s dominance by the Tea Party and by candidates who show disdain for center Right Republicanism. The Gallup findings fit in with what I encountered.
  • Democrats gained in voter identification at the expense of Republicans. I would again attribute this as due to rejection on the part of many Americans of the current dominance of the Republican Party by the Tea Party movement and the talk radio political culture. But this also suggests that a more centrist GOPer in 2016 such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could recapture some of the Republicans who are turned off by their own party now and by the demonizing rhetoric used by some on the far right.
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    • http://wideeyedandreal.blogspot.com ProfElwood

      As long as special interests rule the parties, you can expect the trend to continue.

    • slamfu

      Again, until our politicians can start acting like grown ups and do their job this will continue. The problem is we keep getting into a lesser of two evils vote scenario, and the winner thinks of themselves as having a mandate instead of merely being the cautionary tale they are. Just once I’d like to hear a politician get elected and say “I realize I won because you had no other choice, and I will humbly try to do my best to make your lives better instead of pursuing partisan talking points of my respective party.”

      What can I say, I’m a hopeless romantic and dreamer.

    • RP

      Interesting that the caption at the top states “popular features from the left, center, indies, centrists, moderates, and right,”, but the article only gives attention to the negatives that have caused a decrease in the number of registered voters for the Republicans.

      It does not provide any information concerning the decrease in the number of registered voters for the Democrats. Although you state,”Democrats gained in voter identification at the expense of Republicans”, this is not supported by the chart above. In 1988, the percentage register democrat was 36%, in ’96 about 35%, in ’00 about 35% and in ’10, it was 31%. Could you expand on your comments on the gain for democrats at the expense of republicans since it appears that both parties lost to the independant ranks.

      Since this was not mentioned, I will offer for discussion that the democrats have lost registered voters for the same reason that the rebublicans have lost voters. The democrat party has moved too far out of the mainstream to the left for the average voter, the same as the republicans have moved too far the the right for the average voter.

      As Slamfu states “The problem is we keep getting into a lesser of two evils vote scenario”. We end up with holding our noses when we walk into the voting booth and hope the one we vote for stinks less than the one we reject.

      But we will continue to get what we get as long as the money goes to people with no creative thinking, base their campaigns on protecting inefficient and expensive government programs and think about getting re-elected next time the day after getting elected.

    • merkin

      RP- you must understand the difference between the absolute number of Democrats and the percentage of the electorate that consider themselves Democrats. It might be that absolute number of Democrats stayed the same, but the percentage of the electorate that are Democrats dropped because the number of voters increased. I am not saying that is the case, it is just the first thing that I would check. I am not that interested in the importance of how people self-identify to check it.

      And I see no evidence that the Democrats have become more liberal in the last thirty years. If anything they like the country have moved to the right. I wonder if you have any evidence of this move to the left or does this statement reflect only your opinion.

      Everything I have seen in the last thirty years says that the Democrats have moved to the right. Health care, welfare, war and peace, they look more like the Republicans of thirty years ago than the Democrats of thirty years ago.

      I personally feel like I have moved from supporting the Republicans to supporting the Democrats by staying relatively constant in my views in only ten years.

    • merkin

      I suppose you could make the argument that the Democrats have not moved to the right as fast as the voters have, leaving them farther to the left of the voters than they were thirty years ago. But it would be hard to describe that as moving to the left. It would be best described as moving too slowly right.

    • zephyr

      Merkin has already addressed this and done it well, but I’ll be happy to chime in. The errant and absurd belief that democrats have been moving further left suggests a serious lack of knowledge about their history – and by extension, US history. It also shows how well the rightwing propaganda machine has been working over the past couple decades. I’ve been taking part in politics since the sixties, have voted for democrats, republicans, and third parties. I am issue oriented and have no allegiance to party. I’ve watched as democrats have steadily tacked to starboard over most of this time – especially in this century and mostly to our nations detriment. Without a healthy foil to counter the growth of rightwing extremism, this country will continue to suffer. The best counters to propaganda (which requires complicity in order to be effective) are education (get informed) and the courage to speak out (get involved). A responsible MSM would provide the first logical counter to propaganda, but they got out of the business of being responsible long ago. It’s up to the citizens now. At this point I don’t know if that’s cause for hope or alarm. ;-)

    • Allen

      No No No.

      People are registering independant so that they will not be identified from city hall records as one side or the other, when civil war breaks out.