Independents are now the largest single voting block, according to a new survey by Pew Research. In 2014, 39 percent of Americans identified themselves as Independent, 32 percent as Democrat and 23 percent as Republican. This is the largest share to identify as Independent in the 75-year history of the survey.
This result says more about the brands of the two major parties than a more general political shift. Around 90 percent of Independents admit they still lean more toward one political party over the other. When these leaners are included, 48 percent of Americans identify as Democrats, while 39 percent identify as Republican. Among registered voters, the gap is just 5 points; 48 percent Democrat and 43 percent Republican.
Including the Independent-leaners boosts the number of Americans identifying as Democrats by 9 points. The number identifying with Republicans, though, jumps by 16 points. Including only those Independents who are registered to vote, the least amount of political engagement possible, increases the number of Republicans by another 4 points.
The bulk of the newly identified Independents seem to come at the expense of the Republican party. This shift has occurred even as “distrust in government” eclipses the economy as the nation’s number one problem, according to Gallup. Somehow the Republican party, as a brand, isn’t benefiting from this shift in voters.
Voters have certainly soured on the Democrat party. According to another survey from Gallup, just 39 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Democrats. Since the first few months of Obama’s presidency, Democrats have been viewed favorably by a majority of Americans just once, in the days immediately following Obama’s reelection.
The Republican party fares worse, however. A similar number of Americans, 37 percent, view the party favorably, but the last time the GOP had a majority favorability was in the early months of 2005.
The Republican party has not improved its standing with Americans, even as the issues most on voters’ minds ought to present the party with a real opportunity.
The Independent block of voters is likely to grow over the coming years. The race to capture their hearts, and votes, will decide electoral victory in a host of political contests. For now, they seem to be mostly dissatisfied Republicans. Whether they go back to the party or disappear forever is the political $64,000 question.