Politics

Party Affiliation Gap in U.S. Narrowest Since 2005

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Democratic advantage shrinks as more independents lean to the Republican Party

PRINCETON, NJ -- The advantage in public support the Democratic Party built up during the latter part of the Bush administration and the early part of the Obama administration has all but disappeared. During the first quarter of 2010, 46% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, while 45% identified as or leaned Republican.

Party Identification and Leaning, Quarterly Averages, 2004 to 2010

The latest results, based on aggregated data from Gallup polls conducted from January to March of this year, show the closest party division since the first quarter of 2005, when the parties were tied at 46%. Democrats enjoyed double-digit advantages in party support in 11 of 12 quarters from the second quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2009.

By the end of last year, the Democratic advantage had shrunk to five points (47% to 42%), and it narrowed further in the most recent quarter.

The six-point rise in Republican support since the first quarter of 2009 is due entirely to a growing proportion of independents who lean to the Republican Party, rather than an increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans outright. (Gallup measures party identification by first asking Americans whether they identify as Republicans, Democrats, or independents. Those who are independent or express no party preference are then asked whether they lean more toward the Democratic or the Republican Party.)

In fact, the 28% of Americans who initially identify as Republicans today is identical to the figure Gallup measured in early 2009, when the Democrats still had a double-digit advantage in support. Since then, there has been a three-point reduction in the proportion of Democratic identifiers, and a three-point decline in the percentage of Democratic-leaning independents.

Party Identification and Leaning, by Quarter, 2009-2010

As the table shows, Democrats maintain an edge in initial party identification over Republicans, 32% to 28%. That advantage has also shrunk over the last year, from a 35% to 28% Democratic edge in the first quarter of 2009.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 4,095 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted from January to March 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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