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: