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Gallup: 42% identify as Independents, Dems hold steady, GOP dives to 25%

Americans identifying as Republicans are at a 25-year low.
Americans identifying as Republicans are at a 25-year low.

Republicans thought Mitt Romney had the 2012 presidential election in the bag. But about five million voters proved them wrong when they returned President Barack Obama to the White House for a second term.

Partisan political actions of the kind Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has been tied to will likely drive more voters to be Independents or Democrats.
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Republicans are giddy with the notion they can win six net seats this year to retake the Senate, while maintaining control of the House. But as much as the national mainstream media likes to fan the idea that the country is in love with GOP-brand austerity politics—trimming social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and not extending emergency unemployment compensation for at least 1.3 million whose benefits ended three days after Christmas because Republicans don't want to coddle them lest they get used to not finding a job—the results of a party-identification survey by Gallup Wednesday should offer a little caution to the Grand Old Party, and its new platoon of Tea Party inspired candidates.

Identifying as a Republican at 25 percent is now the lowest in at least 25 years [1988-2013]. Over the same time period, identification as a Democrat is unchanged at 31 percent from the last four years, but down from 36 percent in 2008.

The big reveal by Jeffrey M. Jones at Gallup is that 42 percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago.

The results are based on more than 18,000 interviews with Americans from 13 separate Gallup multiple-day polls conducted in 2013.

Crossing Christie

Today's news about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, that in September, his top staffers New Jersey officials closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge, causing massive gridlock that left thousands of commuters—including school buses and first responders—stranded near the town of Fort Lee as sheer political retribution to a Democratic mayor who did not endorse him last year will likely contribute to more voters turning away from a party that's done its best to oppose virtually any program or policy aimed at helping the middle class instead of the wealthy.

Keep in mind that Gov. Christie is one of the GOP's top choices for a 2016 presidential candidate. Christie said with confidence that no one on his staff was involved in the closure, and that the decision wasn't political retribution for the Fort Lee mayor's failure to endorse Christie for re-election. With the release of subpoenaed emails today, that narrative is clearly a lie. His staff was directly involved, and their motivation appeared to be straight-up political retribution.

In each of the last three years, at least 40 percent of Americans have identified as independents. These are also the only years in Gallup's records that the percentage of independents have reached this level.

Independents rising

Jones wrote that "Americans' increasing shift to independent status has come more at the expense of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party" and that Republican identification peaked at 34 percent in 2004, the year George W. Bush won a second term in office. Since then, however, 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 percent. Since then it has declined or stagnated, improving only slightly to 29 percent in 2010, the year of the rise of the Tea Party when Republicans, as President Obama said, "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 percent, 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," Jones wrote.

Dems mostly steady

Democratic identification has also declined in recent years, falling five points from its recent high of 36 percent in 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected. The current 31 percent of Americans identifying as Democrats matches the lowest annual average in the last 25 years.

The percentage of Americans identifying as independents grew over the course of 2013, surging to 46% in the fourth quarter. That coincided with the partial government shutdown in October and the problematic rollout of major provisions of the health care law, commonly known as "Obamacare."

But Democrats maintain their six-point edge in party identification when independents' "partisan leanings" are taken into account. In addition to the 31 percent of Americans who identify as Democrats, another 16 percent initially say they are Independents, but when probed say they lean to the Democratic Party. An equivalent percentage, 16%, say they are Independent but lean to the Republican Party, on top of the 25% of Americans identifying as Republicans.

The numbers in this survey show that 47 percent of Americans identify as Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, while 41 percent identify as Republicans or lean to the Republican Party.

Democrats have held at least a nominal advantage on this measure of party affiliation in all but three years since Gallup began asking the "partisan lean" follow-up in 1991. During this time, Democrats' advantage has been as high as 12 points, in 2008. However, that lead virtually disappeared by 2010, although Democrats have re-established an edge in the last two years.

Gallup notes that the general trend in recent years, including the 2012 election year, has been toward greater percentages of Americans identifying with neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, although most still admit to leaning toward one of the parties.

"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," which some attribute to 30 or more years of demonization of government in general, starting in the era of Ronald Reagan, who famously said, "Government is not the solution, government is the problem."

Americans increasingly are parting with party labels, so candidates who are less closely aligned with their party or its prevailing doctrine may benefit.

In a state like Ohio, where a Libertarian Party candidate is expected to be on the ballot, Independents could foul up Gov. John Kasich's aspirations to run for president if they turn out in sufficient numbers to deny Kasich a traditional part of his base, which in turn could elect his little known Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, governor come Election Day, Nov. 6.

The news article Gallup: 42% identify as Independents, Dems hold steady, GOP dives to 25% appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.

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