Monday, January 11, 2016

Partisan Identification in the United States and Its Implications

Gallup Poll released the party identification figures for 2015 today, showing that independents—individuals who identify with neither major political party—continue to be the largest group among adults in the United States. The figure below depicts the poll results since 1988:

When leaners are considered, the results show that Democrats/Democratic Leaning Independents have a slight edge over Republicans/Republican Leaning Independents—45 percent to 42 percent. There are 13 percent who are “pure” independents.

The most interesting part of the report contains the implications for elections in 2016:

Americans' attachment to the two major political parties in recent years is arguably the weakest Gallup has recorded since the advent of its polls. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying as political independents has recently reached levels never seen before. As a result, a new low of 29% of Americans identify as Democrats, and the percentage of Republican identifiers is on the low end of what Gallup has measured historically.
Given that 2016 is a presidential election year, and the percentage of independents usually declines in years when Americans are choosing a president, both parties have an opportunity to win back some of their lost support. But doing so partly depends on how appealing the parties' and their presidential candidates' messages prove to be.
Even if the parties win back some support, they still will probably be competing among an electorate that has a historically high percentage of voters who do not identify with either major party. And the lack of strong attachment to the parties could make candidate-specific factors, as opposed to party loyalty, a greater consideration for voters in choosing a president in this year's election than they have been in past elections. (emphasis added)

Given the adversity to political parties among adults and the negative basis for partisan attachments, the presidential and other elections in 2016 could see lower voter turnout and more campaigns that are more negative than in the past. If only the true believers are participating, mobilization becomes more dependent on portraying the opposition negatively. In preparation for the campaign, I would advise everyone to be prepared for a contest that ignores the issues and presents the most negative personal attacks permissible. This would also diminish the percentage of independents who vote. I’m not looking forward to it.

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