In another sign of flagging fortunes for Republicans at the national level, the polling company Gallup recently found that the relative position of the two parties has shifted from essentially even to now favoring Democrats, when it comes to the number of Americans who identify with each party.
The poll, released today, shows that 47 percent of Americans identify with or lean toward the Democrats, with only 42 percent saying the same of Republicans. The advantage to the Democrats is slightly lessened when leaners are removed (31 percent identify as Democrats, with 28 saying the same of Republicans). However, the thin numerical advantage Democrats enjoy among independents is likely to cause more concern for worry. From Gallup's press release:
Americans last year continued their trend toward greater political independence. The 40% who initially identified as political independents matched the record high from 2011. 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. 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.
The increase in political independence has led to a reduction in Democratic and Republican identifiers, 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% of Americans identified as Republicans. This includes 2010, when Republicans made huge gains in the midterm congressional elections.
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.
And here is Gallup's trendline over the past 20 or so years for this metric:
The fact that Gallup has found this result is arguably even more cause for concern among national Republican partisans. This past election, Gallup was the pollster most friendly to Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and showed him holding leads with the national electorate through election day. Given this fact, it could be argued that Gallup's methodology understates the size of the disparity.
The one bright side to the report is that while Democrats enjoy an advantage among those who do identify with either party, a sizable number of Americans are still up for grabs, with 11 percent of Americans counting as pure Independents. These numbers also need not necessarily translate into a weak GOP, as the last time such numbers were recorded was in the run up to the 2001 election, when Republicans (narrowly) won the White House.