The Independents

Percentage of Independents Reaches Yet Another Record High


Since 1988, Gallup has been asking Americans how they self-identify: as Democrats, as Republicans, or as independents? The trend lines are unmistakable:

Clear enough for ya? ||| Gallup

And just like last January, the polling organization's results for the prior year show a record percentage going indy:

Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008.

These results are bad news for the party of Barack Obama….

The current 31% of Americans identifying as Democrats matches the lowest annual average in the last 25 years.

….And they are bad news for Republicans, who—amazingly—have failed to gain while the rest of America continues to lose under the Democratic president:

When [George W. Bush] left office, Republican identification was down to 28%. It has declined or stagnated since then, improving only slightly to 29% in 2010, the year Republicans "shellacked" Democrats in the midterm elections.

Not only are the trend lines clear over the past quarter century, they're clear over the past 12 months:

Clear enough for ya? ||| Gallup

As the Gallup write-up points out,

The 46% independent identification in the fourth quarter is a full three percentage points higher than Gallup has measured in any quarter during its telephone polling era.

Those commentators who still self-identify with one of the two dwindling major tribes will surely contend that a 42 percent independents number will not soon translate into anything like a 42 percent vote for a third party, nor does it mean there's a 42 percent bloc of centrists, or libertarians, or any other monolithic grouping of jackalopes. All of which is true.

Did you know we wrote a book? |||

But as Nick Gillespie and I argue in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (a distillation of which you can read in the August 2011 issue of Reason), the economy/society-wide loss of brand loyalty and gain of individualized, tech-fueled disruption will hit politics and especially governance last, because of government's guaranteed revenue streams and party-rigged insulation from competition. But just because it will happen last, doesn't mean it isn't already beginning to happen. Here's a bit from that magazine excerpt, all of 29 months ago:  

Where will the next political smart mob, the next online swarm, come from? Look wherever there is too broad a gap between the two major political parties and their bases. One good short-term bet is the issue of rolling back the drug war, which professional Democrats from the president on down openly mock while a growing number of Republicans (such as presidential candidates Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) gain surprising support by uttering the unspeakable.

Looking pretty prescient now, right?

Gallup routinely finds fed-up voters leaning increasingly libertarian on a whole host of issues. Even non-libertarians like Charles Krauthammer express something like awe at how quickly libertarian impulses—particularly those that professional politicians have long blunted—are gaining the upper hand. Voters who act like free agents are inherently difficult to herd, and are capable of producing sudden, dynamic change. As Gallup muses:

The increased independence adds a greater level of unpredictability to this year's congressional midterm elections. Because U.S. voters are less anchored to the parties than ever before, it's not clear what kind of appeals may be most effective to winning votes. But with Americans increasingly eschewing party labels for themselves, candidates who are less closely aligned to their party or its prevailing doctrine may benefit.

Expect some discussion on this topic on tonight's episode of The Independents.

NEXT: What Pot Legalization Could Teach Obamacare

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “The trend lines are unmistakable:”

    I don’t see the graph supporting your point. The trend lines look pretty steady other than a short term drop for Republicans and a short term gain for Independents in the last 2 years.

    If independents can remain above 40% for a 5 year period, then we have evidence in a permanent change in the long run trends.

    1. I dunno, a five year trend for both Rs and Is os pretty solid.

      What I find most interesting is that there is apparently nothing, no event, no failure, nothing, that would reduce the Ds guaranteed share below 1/3.

      There’s your storm troopers for the Free Shit Army, right there. Doing the math, it looks like the FSA is well-positioned to win a plurality any time their opposition splits the vote. Yay, democracy.

      1. Yep.

        Until there is some, um, competency test required to vote, we are screwed.

        Of course, we’re probably screwed anyway.

        1. We’d probably be even more screwed if there were a test. Consider who would create the test.

          1. The only real solution is to limit voting to property owners again. And I don’t see that happening.

            1. I don’t really think that would change anything, and IMO would create more trouble than any positive benefits would be worth

            2. Either that or limit voting to only those who pay taxes. But that’ll never happen either. Because racism, or something.

              1. Except pretty much everyone pays taxes of some sort, whether sales, property or income taxes.

            3. Real property or just assets in excess of a target?

          2. You don’t need a test. Just disallow net tax recipients from voting.

      2. I’m still holding out for a GWB tea-party style revolt in the D party towards the end of Obama’s term.

        He’s been in office 5 years and the best he has come up with is a bunch of bullshit corporate giveaways in the form of bad regulations (Dodd-Frank, ACA, Stimulus…). Meanwhile, employment opportunities are miserable the US is in a state of perpetual war under the guy who was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

  2. and unless the next election shows a good many incumbents from either side being replaced, the graph is no more meaningful than any other poll.

  3. Yet they still keep voting for TEAM BERULED.

    1. In fairness TEAM BERULED has things gamed quite a bit. Candidates outside of that team face difficulties getting on the ballot. Even where they get on the ballot they are ignored or undercut by the press, not invited to debates, and of course ridiculed by partisans from both sides.

  4. I always find it fascinating that more people fairly consistently identify as Democrats than Republicans but at the same time more people identify as conservative than liberal. What explains this? Do people not identify the Democrat Party with liberalism? Does the constant, very loud riling against ‘liberals’ by strong conservatives make more people shy from identifying as that than the consistent criticism of conservatives by strong liberals?

    1. The Blue Dog faction had 70-80 House members until 2010. The voters are still out there.

      Something makes them reluctant to join up with the GOP.

      1. There are many things to make one reluctant to “join up with the GOP”. I voted GOP once, Ron Paul primary, first and likely last time I will vote GOP. I watched as they ate their own, I watch as they do the same to Justin Amash. They are not conservative on anything but social issues, and in matters where gov’t clearly doesn’t belong in the first place.

        If I were limited to voting R/D I would write in or abstain, simple as that.

    2. What explains this?

      Tribalism. Once people self-identify as a member of a group, its very hard for them to stop, and even harder to switch over to a (nominally) opposing group.

      Principles got nothing to do with it. Its about principals, and belonging, and self-image.

      Democracy: the worst way to choose a government, except for all the others.

    3. Democrats openly and honestly endorsing wealth redistribution, government control of industries, and general nanny state paternalism is a recent development.

      In the 80’s and 90’s, they would go to great lengths to present themselves as moderate / centerists.

    4. Maybe the fact that most Democratic politicians are authoritarian fascists just like the Republicans, and not liberals at all?

  5. Gays can get gay married, 4% of the US can smoke weed, and most people are tired of debating abortion. Yay, the libertarian revolution is here.

    1. This could use some mentions of ‘cosmotarian cocktail parties.’

    2. You forgot one: you can carry a pistol, except in any city where you are likely to be murdered.

      And if on some dark night you actually shoot someone who is trying to bash your brains in, he better be white, on the sex-offender registry, and have terrorist propaganda in his pocket.

      “Freedom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” [Mel Gibson voice]

      1. That movie was on last night. Damn does it make me want to pick up an axe and charge the field against the Statists.

      2. except in any city where you are likely to be murdered.

        I think you might be mixing up the causation here.

        Perhaps you are likely to be murdered there because lawful citizens are not allowed to carry pistols there.

  6. Independents are mostly one of the following:

    1. Republicans and democrats who call themselves independents so they can claim to be open-minded.

    2. People who don’t know enough about current affairs or the two parties to decide what they are. They watch reality TV 24/7 and mark up election ballots randomly when they vote (which they only do for show).

  7. Where will the next political smart mob, the next online swarm, come from?

    Probably Eastern Europe or China.

  8. You forgot to put Libertarians on the graph. I’ll assume it’s the x-axis if it was set at 0.

  9. Free association:

    If you had to choose between nation-wide licensing of gay marriage, and shutting down the NSA (apparently, somebody has been putting backdoors into all kinds of wifi routers that somebody has been attacking), which would you choose?…..get-admin/

    1. That’s a false dichotomy worthy of our fearless leader.

      1. In what sense is a hypothetical a false dichotomy?

        1. Oh, that’s right — Obama doesn’t deal in hypotheticals. I apologize.

    2. The backdoor requires that the attacker be on the local network, so this isn’t something that could be used to remotely attack DSL users. However, it could be used to commandeer a wireless access point and allow an attacker to get unfettered access to local network resources.

      So basically if you have a WEP up they can’t get in.

      Anyway to answer your question I would shut down the NSA first.

      1. Wait a second…

        How is this even a back door?

        If you have wireless access you have access to

        Are they saying there is a way around the routers password?

        If you have access to the router configurations then you have access…not back door access, simply access.

  10. The sexy Kennedy is pumping up the Independents!

  11. I read somewhere a while back that, while more and more people are declaring themselves independents, they still vote pretty much along the same lines they always did.

    If true, that would tell me that most people don’t really change their ideology, assuming they have one, when they say they switched to independent. They vote the same way they always did but call themselves independents so they won’t feel to blame for the results of their voting the same old way.

  12. The next online swarm will come from China

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.