Gallup Finds Increase in Independents, Typical of Off-Years

by Lydia Saad

Percentage identifying as independents is 37%, up from 33% in third quarter of 2006

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's frequent measurement of the public's identification with the major political parties documents ongoing shifts in Americans' party preferences. One recurring pattern is that the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as political independents dips right before national elections -- typically in the third quarter of an election year -- and peaks sometime between elections. Accordingly, with July 2007 being about halfway between the 2006 midterm elections and the 2008 presidential election, Gallup finds a high proportion of Americans today calling themselves independent.

Gallup's most recent national survey, conducted July 12-15, 2007, finds 37% of the voting-age public calling themselves independent while the remainder divides about equally between identifying as Democrats (32%) and Republicans (29%).

In fact, the latest result is nearly identical to the averages Gallup found in its polling during the first two quarters of this year, from January 2007 through June 2007. Prior to that, the percentage independent was 35% in the fourth quarter of 2006, and 33% in the third quarter of 2006.

The longer-term trend illustrates the connection between identification with the two major parties and election time. With most elections playing out as a battle between Republican and Democratic candidates, it seems the public's identification with one or the other major parties is heightened as Election Day draws near, and the residual number calling themselves independent drops off.

Within longer-term shifts in the overall percentage calling themselves independent from 1989 through 2007, short-term dips in independent identification were seen in the third quarters of 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2004, and 2006. The exceptions to the election-year rule were 1994 and 2002 when relatively little pre-election change in party identification was seen.

Conversely, the high points for identification as independents are generally seen in off-election years, including 1995, 1997, 1999, 2003, and 2007. One notable exception to this was the spike in people identifying as independents in the second quarter of 1992, corresponding with the peak in voter support for independent presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.

Bottom Line

Gallup has detected a small -- but significant -- increase in 2007 in the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as political independents. Currently, 37% of Americans identify as independents. This up from 33% just prior to the 2006 midterm elections, and is slightly higher than the average level of 35% seen since 1989. At 29%, Republican Party identification falls slightly below the long-term average of 31%, while, at 33%, Democratic identification is exactly average.

The recent move away from the major political parties and into the ranks of political independents fits within a larger pattern Gallup has documented over the past 15 years. For a certain segment of Americans, their partisanship is activated by elections. In the last few months before a presidential or midterm congressional election, they are more likely to identify with either the Republican or Democratic Party, and are therefore less likely to consider themselves independent. This typically subsides between elections to the point that the ranks of independents swells to become the single largest political category in election off-years.

Survey Methods

The most recent results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 12-15, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error 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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