Gallup Poll Shows Democrats Re-Gaining the Lead in Party Affiliation

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Now 47 Percent Identify as Democrats or Lean That Way, While Only 42 Percent Identify as Republican or Lean That Way

By Glynn Wilson

It appears that the centrist course set by President Barack Obama in office and in the presidential campaign of 2012, and the decline of the radical tea party, are beginning to make a difference in public opinion. While the latest Gallup poll on party identification still has more Americans saying they are independents than either Republicans or Democrats, the first story out on the subject in 2013 reveals an uptick in independents who lean toward the Democratic Party.

According to Gallup, an average of 47 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Democrats or said they were independents who lean toward supporting the Democratic Party, compared to 42 percent who identify themselves as Republicans or lean toward that party.

“That re-establishes a Democratic edge in party affiliation after the two parties were essentially tied in 2010 and 2011,” Gallup concludes in its analysis of the public opinion survey data.

Gallup_PartyID2013a

Gallup has only been measuring party identification for the past 21 years. Since 1991, the data has consistently shown an advantage for the Democrats. In 2008, after eight years with the unpopular president George W. Bush in the White House, the Democrats held an advantage of 12 points, one of the reasons Mr. Obama won the presidential election that year.

During this snap shot in time, the Republicans only held an advantage for one year, 1991, when President George H.W. Bush enjoyed record-high approval ratings before he went on to defeat in 1992 after his unpopular stance on taxes. The two parties were essentially tied in 1994-1995, 2001-2003 and 2010-2011.

But in 2012, 31 percent of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and 16 percent of independents said they leaned toward supporting Democratic candidates, while only 28 percent identified themselves as Republicans and 14 percent of independents leaned Republican.

“The new Democratic advantage is mostly due to an increased proportion of Democratic-leaning independents and a decreased proportion of Republican-leaning independents,” Gallup says its numbers show.

But more Americans, 40 percent, still identify themselves as political independents.

“That is particularly notable, given that the usual pattern is for the percentage of Americans identifying as independents to decline in a presidential election year,” Gallup says. “In each of the last four presidential election years, dating back to 1996, the percentage of independents was lower than in the year prior to the election.”

While Gallup does not mention it, President Obama’s race clearly has a lot to do with this, especially in the American South. As the first African-American president, Mr. Obama is still not popular in this region of the country, and his policy positions or success in office clearly have very little to do with his approval here.

Nevertheless, the increase in political independents has led to a reduction in Democratic and Republican identifiers over the years, Gallup’s numbers show, with the percentage of core Democrats and Republicans currently in the lower range for the past 25 years.

“In fact, 2012 marked the sixth consecutive year that less than 30 percent of Americans identified as Republicans,” Gallup points out. “This includes 2010, when Republicans made huge gains in the midterm congressional elections.”

Gallup’s Implications

“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,” Gallup concludes. “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.”

Analysis

In charting a centrist, pro-business course in his first four years as president and during the presidential election race of 2012, and in refusing to go back and spend time prosecuting the crimes of Bush administration officials such as Karl Rove, President Obama gambled that by taking a moderate stance he could win back mainstream, middle class Americans for the Democratic Party. While he has been stymied on just about every policy front by radical, right-leaning Republicans in the House of Representatives, he has stayed the course. It appears from the public opinion data that this strategy is beginning to pay off.

As normal, working people see that Republican rhetoric about Obama being a “socialist” is false, and as his policies on the domestic economic front and in the arena of foreign policy are shown to be working, albeit too slowly for some, more people are coming around to his point of view. If he can continue to hold this course in a second term, if the economy continues to slowly improve and the threat of terrorism continues to recede, this should pay off for the country and the Democratic Party over time.

If, on the other hand, the president gets dragged into a protracted debate about gun control or illegal immigration without making any progress on the policy front, the numbers could still shift back in the opposite direction. This is the gamble now underway by the leadership among House Republicans. They apparently continue to think they can stand up to the president and keep the country embroiled in a constant wrangle over the deficit and taxes and distract the country from making real progress on health care and the environment, for example, while ignoring core, basic economic principles that show it takes taxes and government spending to create jobs in the wake of a recession.

The future of the country may well depend on whether the president can win this argument with enough of the people to bring about more change in the makeup of the House in the midterm elections of 2014. The future of the planet may depend on victories on these fronts so that we can all turn our attention to the 1,000 pound elephant in the room: Climate change due to human induced global warming.

In the long run, this is a far bigger problem than gun violence or illegal immigration, the two issues that now top the national political agenda due to recent news events. A true debate on the role of the United States in creating the global warming problem also has the most potential to not only benefit the environment but the economy as well. Moving the national economic system in the direction of favoring incentives to produce alternative fuels holds the most potential benefits for creating high paying jobs and preventing wars and economic recessions in the future. The sooner we all realize this and get on with it the better off we will be as a country.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted January-December, 2012, with a random sample of 20,800 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1 percentage point.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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