Gallup Poll: Democrats hit historic party identification low, GOP not doing well either
A new Gallup poll shows that the number of voters identifying themselves as independents rremains firm and the number identifying themselves as Republicans and Democrats have fallen to new historic lows. In other words, both parties are failing to effectively woo those who don’t happily wear the label partisans. But the Democrats are in worse shape: they’ve hit a new historic party identification low:
In 2015, for the fifth consecutive year, at least four in 10 U.S. adults identified as political independents. The 42% identifying as independents in 2015 was down slightly from the record 43% in 2014. This elevated percentage of political independents leaves Democratic (29%) and Republican (26%) identification at or near recent low points, with the modest Democratic advantage roughly where it has been over the past five years.
Since 1988, when Gallup routinely began conducting polls by telephone, there have been many years in which more Americans have identified as independents than as Republicans or independents. But the percentage of independents did not reach 40% until 2011, and it has stayed at or above that level for the past five years.
As a consequence, the percentage of U.S. adults identifying as Democrats is now at the lowest point in the past 27 years, down from the prior low of 30% in 2014. Gallup’s shift from in-person to telephone interviewing in 1988 complicates the ability to directly compare party identification data collected between the two methods. However, Gallup data from 1951-1987 collected in person never found a yearly average Democratic identification less than 37%, making it safe to conclude that the current 29% is also the low point in Gallup polling history.
This should perhaps temper pundits who continue to declare that no matter what happens a Republican is highly unlikely to win the White Housek or the commont believe that, why, Donald Trump can NEVER be elected in a general election. As I’ve noted before, a smugly asseerted or written conventional wisdom can have an awful short shelf life — and a very quiet funeral, where people hope it isn’t noticed that they were wrong.
The percentage of Republicans is now just one point above its recent low of 25% in 2013. Before 1988, there were several years when the average percentage of Republican identifiers in Gallup polls was lower than 25%.
Why the thumbs down by many Americans when it comes to parties? Two key factors:
The rise in political independence is likely related to Americans’ frustration with party gridlock in the federal government. In the past several years, dissatisfaction with the government has ranked among the leading issues when U.S. adults are asked to name the most important problem facing the U.S., and was the most frequently mentioned problem in 2014 and 2015. Also, Americans’ favorable ratings of each party are on the lower end of what Gallup has measured over the past few decades.
I’ve noted before that being a moderate doesn’t means someone talks like a, uncommitted pr dispassionate CSPAN post or doesn’t take a position pr begin to favor one partt or another. Ditto when it comes to independents: they may lean heavily towards on party, which means they may be sway-able but more easily to persuade by one party than another:
Although political independents lack a strong enough attachment to either party to say they identify as a Republican or a Democrat, most are inclined to favor one party over the other and generally vote that way. After initially asking Americans if they identify as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, Gallup then probes independents as to whether they lean toward the Republican or the Democratic Party. The combined percentages of party identifiers and leaners give a sense of the relative strength of the two major parties in the U.S., because in most elections, voters are asked to choose a candidate from one of the two parties.
Last year, in addition to the 29% of Americans who identified as Democrats, another 16% said they were independents but leaned toward the Democratic Party, for a combined total of 45% Democrats and Democratic leaners among the U.S. population. Likewise, 26% of Americans identified as Republicans and an additional 16% identified as independents but leaned toward the Republican Party, for a combined total of 42% Republicans and Republican leaners.
That three-percentage-point Democratic advantage matches what the party enjoyed in 2014, but is down from 2012 and 2013. The high point in Democratic strength was in 2008, a time when President George W. Bush was highly unpopular in the midst of the prolonged Iraq war and the emerging economic recession. That year, Democrats had a 12-point advantage in party identification and leaning.
Gallup believes the results suggest each party has a chance to win back some of its supporters — and that the specific candidate each party picks may be pivotal this year, since party identification is tepid:
Americans’ attachment to the two major political parties in recent years is arguably the weakest Gallup has recorded since the advent of its polls. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying as political independents has recently reached levels never seen before. As a result, a new low of 29% of Americans identify as Democrats, and the percentage of Republican identifiers is on the low end of what Gallup has measured historically.
Given that 2016 is a presidential election year, and the percentage of independents usually declines in years when Americans are choosing a president, both parties have an opportunity to win back some of their lost support. But doing so partly depends on how appealing the parties’ and their presidential candidates’ messages prove to be.
Even if the parties win back some support, they still will probably be competing among an electorate that has a historically high percentage of voters who do not identify with either major party. And the lack of strong attachment to the parties could make candidate-specific factors, as opposed to party loyalty, a greater consideration for voters in choosing a president in this year’s election than they have been in past elections.
This poll will likely mean partisans of all candidates of each party will now point to their candidate and arguing that this data (that they will likely cherrypick) means they can win the day.
graphic via shutterstock.com