Politics

Democrats Re-Establish Narrow Edge in Party Affiliation

by Jeffrey M. Jones

In August, parties were even in leaned party identification

PRINCETON, NJ -- Slightly more Americans identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (44%) than identify as or lean Republican (41%) in September to date, re-establishing a Democratic edge that disappeared in August, when the parties were even. The Democrats' current positioning remains much weaker than it was at the time President Barack Obama took office, when they enjoyed a 17-point edge in party affiliation.

Monthly Averages in Leaned Party Identification, January 2009-September 2010

Most of the decline since Obama took office occurred last year, when the Democratic advantage dropped from 17 points in January to 5 points by November, following the same general trajectory as Obama's job approval rating.

Democrats have maintained a slight advantage of three to five points since November, but even that small edge disappeared in August, coinciding with the low point in Obama's approval rating. September has been a bit kinder to both Obama and the Democrats. Based on more than 13,000 interviews conducted so far this month, the party has re-established an advantage in affiliation, although it is not quite back to the four-point advantage it has averaged since November.

However, the current narrow Democratic lead in party affiliation among national adults hardly makes Democrats' status as the majority party in Congress safe. According to Gallup's weekly generic congressional ballot updates, registered voters have generally been more likely to prefer the Republican candidate in their district than the Democratic candidate, even before factoring in turnout, which usually aids Republicans. That is partly the result of independent voters' consistent preference for the Republicans this year.

Decline in Democratic Affiliation Broad-Based

All key demographic subgroups of Americans show a drop in Democratic affiliation since January 2009, and the declines are largely similar across the groups, ranging from 3 points among blacks to 10 points among Midwestern residents and those aged 50 to 64.

Changes in Leaned Party Identification With the Democratic Party, January 2009-September 2010

As such, it appears the forces that are driving down Democratic affiliation are affecting all subgroups. The broad-based loss in Democratic affiliation over the past 21 months is similar to the decline in Republican Party affiliation Gallup documented from the beginning to the end of George W. Bush's presidency.

Bottom Line

The election and inauguration of President Obama propelled popular support for the Democratic Party to great heights, with the Democrats' advantage in party affiliation approaching 20 points in December 2008 and January 2009. However, the realities of governing -- particularly in a difficult economy -- helped erase the Democrats' entire advantage to the point that in August, Americans were as likely to align themselves with the Republican Party as with the Democratic Party. So far, September has seen Democrats regain an edge. But they still head into the fall elections in their weakest positioning versus the Republicans since 2005, and vulnerable to losing many of their electoral gains from 2006 and 2008.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking survey Sept. 1-13, 2010, with a random sample of 13,111 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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