Democratic Advantage in Party Identification Widens Post-Election

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Change due to drop in Republican affiliation, increase in independent affiliation

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's first poll conducted following this year's midterm election shows a widening Democratic advantage in national party identification. The increased Democratic gap is a function of fewer Americans identifying as Republicans and more as independents, rather than an expanding Democratic base. Shifts in party identification following an election are not uncommon, particularly when one party is seen as having done very well. The initial post-election advantage usually shrinks by early December of the election year -- although in some cases a smaller party advantage has remained for at least a couple months after the election.

The 2006 Post-Election Shift

In the Nov. 9-12, 2006 Gallup Poll, 35% of Americans identified as Democrats, 24% as Republicans, and 40% as independents. That compares with 34% Democratic, 31% Republican, and 32% independent identification in Gallup's final pre-election poll. Thus, following the election, there was a significant increase in the percentage of Americans calling themselves independent (from 32% to 40%), a significant drop in the percentage of Republican identifiers (31% to 24%), and no meaningful change in the percentage of Democrats (34% to 35%).  

Those changes pushed the Democratic advantage in partisanship to 11 percentage points, compared with a 3-point advantage before the election and an average 4-point advantage for all of 2006. For 2006, the party identification averages are 34% Democratic, 30% Republican, and 34% independent. The 11-point Democratic advantage in partisanship is one of the larger gaps Gallup has observed in a single poll over the last 20 years.

The Republican and independent percentages are unusual compared with historical Gallup polling. Gallup has not measured a lower percentage of Republican identifiers in a poll since only 20% of Americans called themselves Republicans in December 1998 after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Bill Clinton. Also, Gallup has not recorded a higher percentage of independents in a poll since January 2004 (43%).

The increasing Democratic advantage is also evident by the fact that independents are now twice as likely to say they lean to the Democratic rather than Republican Party. When these "leaners" are allocated with the party identifiers, the Democratic advantage is 22 percentage points, as 56% of Americans currently identify with or lean to the Democratic Party and 34% identify with or lean to the Republican Party. In the final pre-election poll, the Democrats held a 49% to 39% advantage in leaned-party identification. For the year, the Democratic margin is 50% to 40% to date.

Past Post-Election Shifts

A shift in party identification following an election is not unusual, but does not always occur. Notable shifts have been observed following the 2004, 2002, 1994, and 1992 elections. There were no perceptible changes in national partisanship following the 1996-2000 elections.

Changes in Party Identification,
Pre- to Post-Election

Gallup Final Pre-Election Poll

  First Gallup Post-Election Poll

Year

Demo-
crat

Repub-
lican

Democrat
minus
Republican
 Gap

  Demo-
crat

Repub-
lican

Democrat
minus
Republican
Gap

%

%

 

%

%

 

2006

34

31

+3

35

24

+11

2004

37

34

+3

35

38

-3

2002

34

34

0

25

31

-6

2000

35

29

+6

36

28

+8

1998

35

29

+6

34

29

+5

1996

40

30

+10

37

28

+9

1994

34

31

+3

28

36

-8

1992 

36

30

+6

35

25

+10

In 2004, a three-point Democratic advantage in party identification at the time of the election changed to a three-point deficit following the election. In 2002, an even-party distribution swung in the Republican direction after the Republicans' strong showing. The 1994 elections, which swept Republicans into power after decades of minority party status in the U.S. House of Representatives, is the most dramatic example. That year, a 3-point Democratic advantage vanished and Republicans held an 8-point edge following the election; a net change of 11 points. The current Democratic net gain of 8 points is surpassed only by the Republican gain of 11 points following the 1994 elections.

Post-election shifts in national partisanship appear to be related to a party's election performance. If a party exceeds expectations in the elections -- as was the case in the elections discussed above -- a shift in Americans' party identification is usually evident. That could be due to more positive media coverage of the victorious party following their better-than-expected election performance. Such positive media coverage may push those without a strong party affiliation to the losing party into independent status, and may persuade those who lean to the winning party to fully identify with the party.

More often than not, the initial burst found after the election does not sustain itself. In three of the more recent elections where a shift was observed (2002, 1994, and 1992), the gap closed about a month later with a small but not significant increase in the fourth (2004). After the 1992 and 2002 elections, the advantage the winning party gained was gone by the following January. However, after the 1994 and 2004 elections, the Republicans were able to maintain an advantage well into the following year. Democrats did not achieve parity with Republicans in party identification on a consistent basis following these elections until April 1995 and June 2005, respectively.

Democratic Advantage in Party Identification Following Recent Election

Year

Pre-Election
Poll:
Democrat
minus
Republican
Gap

Post-Election
Poll:
Democrat
minus
Republican
Gap

One Month Later
(early Dec.):
Democrat
minus
Republican
Gap

Two Months Later
(late Dec./early Jan.):
Democrat
minus
Republican
Gap

 

 

 

 

2004

+3

-3

-5

-2

2002

0

-6

-2

0

1994

+3

-8

-1

-5

1992

+6

+10

+6

+3

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 9-12, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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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