Given the popularity, or lack thereof, of both parties in Washington, the figures released Wednesday showing a record number of Americans now identify themselves as Independent shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a new poll, Gallup found that 42 percent of Americans identified themselves as independent, the highest number to do so in Gallup’s 25 years conducting phone interviews. Those new independents had to come from somewhere, and the party to take the biggest hit was the GOP with Republican identification dropping to 25 percent, again the lowest in a quarter century. The Democrats managed to hold steady with 31 percent identifying with the party, the same as did so four years ago, but that still amounts to a five point decline since President Obama’s election in 2008.
Here’s some more unpacking of the numbers from Gallup:
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. Democratic identification has also declined in recent years, falling five points from its recent high of 36% in 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected. The current 31% of Americans identifying as Democrats matches the lowest annual average in the last 25 years.