At a time when pollsters are finding more and more Americans want to declare themselves independents, a new Gallup Poll finds that Democratic Party has re-taken the Republican Party in terms of voter party identification:
An average of 47% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independents who leaned Democratic in 2012, compared with 42% who identified as or leaned Republican. That re-establishes a Democratic edge in party affiliation after the two parties were essentially tied in 2010 and 2011.
The estimates are based on an aggregate of all 2012 Gallup and USA Today/Gallup polls, consisting of more than 20,000 interviews.
Gallup has measured party identification and leaning consistently since 1991. During that time, Democrats have usually held an advantage, including the high margin of 12 points in 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected. Republicans have held an advantage in only one year — 1991, when President George H.W. Bush enjoyed record-high approval ratings after the Persian Gulf War. The two parties were essentially tied in 1994-1995, 2001-2003, and 2010-2011.
In 2012, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, with an additional 16% initially saying they were independent but when asked if they leaned toward either party, they said Democratic. Meanwhile, 28% of Americans identified as Republicans, with another 14% leaning toward the GOP.
The percentages of Republican and Democratic identifiers were essentially unchanged from 2011 to 2012. The new Democratic advantage is mostly due to an increased proportion of Democratic-leaning independents and a decreased proportion of Republican-leaning independents. Thus, the movement comes almost exclusively among Americans with weaker attachments to the political parties.
At the end of the poll Gallup offers us this bottom line:
The year 2012 saw President Obama re-elected to office and saw Democrats regain an advantage in party affiliation among the American public. But that bit of good news for the Democrats is tempered by the fact that a record number of Americans continue to claim political independence, at least when initially asked to say which party they support.
The rise in independence is perhaps not surprising, given the low esteem in which Americans hold the federal government and the political parties. But with most Americans willing to at least express a leaning to either party, it does suggest the potential for the parties to gain more solid adherents in the future.
So it comes down to which party makes a bigger and more successful effort to a)woo voters already not in its tent and b)expand its tent. And, this writing at least, there are few signs that the GOP is talking to others except its existing choir, particularly those who are Tea Party members or conservative new and old media powerhouses amid a seeming race to prove who is the less compassionate conservative. Which is not a good way to increase voter share among demographic groups trending towards the Dems in a period where Democratic Party identification is on the rise.