Poll Spells Bad News For Political Establishment, Possibly Good For Tea Party
January 9, 2014 by Sam Rolley
The results of a new poll indicate that a record number of Americans identify themselves as political independents. And while the number of Americans who call themselves Democrats remains unchanged from the past four years, Republican identification is at its lowest point in 25 years.
Gallup reports that 42 percent of Americans identified as independents in 2013, compared to 31 percent who said they are Democrats and 21 percent who identified themselves as Republicans. For the past three years, the polling agency has recorded independents making up at least 40 percent of the voting population.
The polling agency notes:
Americans’ increasing shift to independent status has come more at the expense of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Republican identification peaked at 34% in 2004, the year George W. Bush won a second term in office. Since then, it has fallen nine percentage points, with most of that decline coming during Bush’s troubled second term. When he left office, Republican identification was down to 28%. It has declined or stagnated since then, improving only slightly to 29% in 2010, the year Republicans “shellacked” Democrats in the midterm elections.
Not since 1983, when Gallup was still conducting interviews face to face, has a lower percentage of Americans, 24%, identified as Republicans than is the case now. That year, President Ronald Reagan remained unpopular as the economy struggled to emerge from recession. By the following year, amid an improving economy and re-election for the increasingly popular incumbent president, Republican identification jumped to 30%, a level generally maintained until 2007.
In this year’s elections, establishment Republicans are expected to try to marginalize Tea Party GOP outsiders who mount primary challenges to rank-and-file candidates. Decreases in voter identification with the GOP could have major implications for the Party establishment.
Gallup recorded a surge in the number of Americans calling themselves independents during the fourth quarter of 2013. During that period, frustrations over the National Security Agency spying scandal were fresh, the initial disasters of the Obamacare rollout were occurring and headlines screamed of government shutdown drama.
The polling agency acknowledges that Democrats hold a 6-point lead in party identification when independents’ “partisan leanings” are taken into account; however, distrust of government could push those teetering independents into the arms of nontraditional Republican candidates with small-government positions and little interest in legislating morality.
“The rise in political independence is likely an outgrowth of Americans’ record or near-record negative views of the two major U.S. parties, of Congress, and their low level of trust in government more generally,” Gallup reports.