Democrats lost support during 2021. Throughout each year, Gallup looks at political party preferences in America. For decades, identification with the Democratic Party has outperformed identification with Republicans and last year was no different on average, with 46 percent of those surveyed saying they were or leaned Democrat and just 43 percent saying they were or leaned Republican. But drilling down on the data tells a different story.
At the start of 2021, 49 percent aligned more with Democrats and 40 percent with Republicans. By the second quarter of 2021, this gap had shrunk: 49 percent still aligned with Democrats, but 43 percent now aligned with Republicans. And by the third quarter identification had basically converged, with 45 percent aligning Democrat and 44 percent Republican.
Then, in the final quarter of 2021, things flipped completely. An average of 47 percent of those surveyed in this quarter said they were or leaned Republican, while just 42 percent said they were or leaned Democrat.
What's going on here? The survey itself—composed of telephone interviews with 12,000 randomly sampled American adults—can't actually tell us. All we're left with is room to speculate, and several factors seem plausible:
- The Trump factor. For all the fanatical loyalty among former President Donald Trump's base, he's a polarizing figure among independents and moderates. It's not surprising that the further we moved from Trump's time in office, the more the Republican Party regained some of its sheen.
- COVID policies. Many Democratic responses to the pandemic have not been popular, especially in the post-vaccine era. Perhaps as Democrats continued to push mask mandates, school closures, and other restrictions, more people grew disillusioned with them.
- Grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Whichever party is in power—in this case, the Democrats—has more opportunities to piss people off and gets more blame (fairly or unfairly) for any economic and cultural woes.
Whatever the explanation (and it's probably a bit of all these and more), it seems Democrats became less popular over the course of 2021 and their GOP counterparts more popular. The result was to create an atypically large gap in partisan identification.
2021 was an outlier in Gallup polling. "Both the nine-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter and the five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter are among the largest Gallup has measured for each party in any quarter since it began regularly measuring party identification and leaning in 1991," Gallup reports. "The GOP has held as much as a five-point advantage in a total of only four quarters since 1991."
Previous times Republicans held a five-point or more lead in party identification in Gallup's poll were in early 1991 and early 1995.
"Democrats held larger, double-digit advantages in isolated quarters between 1992 and 1999 and nearly continuously between mid-2006 and early 2009," notes Gallup. It last had a 9-point lead back in 2012.
Notably, in Gallup's December poll, the gap between Republican and Democratic identification began to close again. In December, 46 percent identified as Republican or Republican-leaning and 44 percent identified as Democratic or Democratic-leaning.
What about independents? Gallup asked those who identified as independent to pick which of the two main parties they leaned toward more; there was no option to identify with the Libertarian Party or other third parties. On average, 8 percent identified as not leaning either way and roughly equal proportions said they leaned Democrat (17 percent) or Republican (16 percent).
The fact that most independents do lean either Republican or Democrat hides an interesting data point: More Americans identify as independent than as either Republican or Democrat.
In last year's poll, an average of 42 percent of survey respondents said they were politically independent, while just 29 percent identified off the bat as Democrat and 27 percent as Republican.
The proportion of independents is up slightly from recent years (39 percent in 2020 and 41 percent in 2019). And it reflects a "broader trend toward an increasing share of political independents [that] has been clear over the past decade," notes Gallup: "At least four in 10 Americans have considered themselves independents in all years since 2011, except for the 2016 and 2020 presidential election years. Before 2011, independent identification had never reached 40%."
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Section 1201 of the DMCA "makes it a crime to engage in or even distribute information about [circumventing digital locks], even if the circumvention serves an otherwise lawful purpose," EFF's appeal explains. It "is likely unconstitutional on its face, as a speech restriction that cannot survive strict or intermediate scrutiny, or as an unconstitutional speech-licensing regime," EFF argues.
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