Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Don’t be fooled: Most independents are partisans too

Voting Booth

Christopher Devine argues, "What really matters is what political scientists like myself call your 'political identity' – your psychological attachment to a political group, such as a party or an ideological movement."

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Devine in an assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

Will President Trump win reelection in 2020? To find out, you'd think you could just look up whether more Americans are registered as Republicans than Democrats.

But the truth is, it doesn't really matter which party you register with on paper. Besides, 19 states don't even register voters by party.

What really matters is what political scientists like myself call your "political identity" – your psychological attachment to a political group, such as a party or an ideological movement. That's why political science surveys ask people, "Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, or what?"

This question aims to find out how you see yourself – essentially, which team are you on? This is how many people make sense of the political world.

According to Gallup, the identity that people choose most often is actually "independent" – not Democratic or Republican. In 2019, 42 percent of Americans chose this label, up from the low 30s just 15 years earlier.

However, three-quarters of these "independents" admit, when asked, that they lean toward favoring either the Democratic or Republican parties. Judging by how they vote or what they think of national political leaders, the truth is that these "leaners" really are partisans rather than independents. Apparently, many people who like to think of themselves as independent-minded and free of party influence aren't.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

So, why call themselves independents? Typically, according to one leading study, it is "not because they disagree with the parties ideologically or politically but because being a party member is embarrassing."

In fact, only about 10 percent of Americans are what political scientists call "pure independents" – that is, people who identify as independents and claim not to favor either of the two major parties. Nor has that percentage grown in recent years. This means that the vast majority of Americans – consistently around 90 percent – are partisans, whether they like to admit it or not.

So which party do more Americans identify with – Democratic or Republican?

The Democratic Party, usually.

According to a Gallup poll in October, 47 percent of Americans either called themselves Democrats or admitted leaning toward the Democratic Party, versus 42 percent for Republicans and 11 percent independents. However, there are some signs that Republicans gained ground on Democrats in recent months.

Historically speaking, there have always been more Democrats than Republicans in the American electorate – with rare and very brief exceptions – ever since Gallup began polling party identification in the 1930s.

But identifying with a party is not the same as voting for it. Self-identified Democrats are less likely than Republicans to turn out to vote, particularly in midterm elections. This is because young people and other Democratic constituencies tend to be more engaged by the spectacle of a presidential election.

That should be good news for Democrats this year - since, in the 2018 midterms, they won back the House of Representatives. It figures that Democrats would be even more energized to defeat Trump this fall. Right?

Not so fast. Recently, Gallup asked Americans whether they are more enthusiastic about voting in 2020 than in previous elections. As it turns out, Republicans are just as enthusiastic about voting as Democrats. This is unusual. In previous elections, the party out of power always expressed more enthusiasm. But not this time. Now, partisans on both sides are highly energized.

The good news for Democrats is that there may be more of them to mobilize this year than there are Republicans. The bad news is that Republicans are united behind Trump – and ready to vote.

Will Democrats nominate a presidential candidate who can fire up their party's base, too? Chances are, that will matter more than winning over the small slice of American voters who don't identify with either party.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Click here to read the original article.

The Conversation

Read More

Trump and Biden at the debate

Our political dysfunction was on display during the debate in the simple fact of the binary choice on stage: Trump vs Biden.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The debate, the political duopoly and the future of American democracy

Johnson is the executive director of the Election Reformers Network, a national nonpartisan organization advancing common-sense reforms to protect elections from polarization.

The talk is all about President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, whether he’ll be replaced at the top of the ticket and what it all means for the very concerning likelihood of another Trump presidency. These are critical questions.

But Donald Trump is also a symptom of broader dysfunction in our political system. That dysfunction has two key sources: a toxic polarization that elevates cultural warfare over policymaking, and a set of rules that protects the major parties from competition and allows them too much control over elections. These rules entrench the major-party duopoly and preclude the emergence of any alternative political leadership, giving polarization in this country its increasingly existential character.

Keep ReadingShow less
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Voters should be able to take the measure of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., since he is poised to win millions of votes in November.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

Kennedy should have been in the debate – and states need ranked voting

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

CNN’s presidential debate coincided with a fresh batch of swing-state snapshots that make one thing perfectly clear: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. may be a longshot to be our 47th president and faces his own controversies, yet the 10 percent he’s often achieving in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and other battlegrounds could easily tilt the presidency.

Why did CNN keep him out with impossible-to-meet requirements? The performances, mistruths and misstatements by Joe Biden and Donald Trump would have shocked Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, who managed to debate seven times without any discussion of golf handicaps — a subject better fit for a “Grumpy Old Men” outtake than one of the year’s two scheduled debates.

Keep ReadingShow less
I Voted stickers

Veterans for All Voters advocates for election reforms that enable more people to participate in primaries.

BackyardProduction/Getty Images

Veterans are working to make democracy more representative

Proctor, a Navy veteran, is a volunteer with Veterans for All Voters.

Imagine this: A general election with no negative campaigning and four or five viable candidates (regardless of party affiliation) competing based on their own personal ideas and actions — not simply their level of obstruction or how well they demonize their opponents. In this reformed election process, the candidate with the best ideas and the broadest appeal will win. The result: The exhausted majority will finally be well-represented again.

Keep ReadingShow less
Person voting at a dropbox in Washington, D.C.

A bill moving through Congress would only allow U.S. citizens to vote in D.C. municipal eletions.

Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

The battle over noncitizen voting in America's capital

Rogers is the “data wrangler” at BillTrack50. He previously worked on policy in several government departments.

Should you be allowed to vote if you aren’t an American citizen? Or according to the adage ‘No taxation without representation’, if you pay taxes should you get to choose the representatives who help spend those tax dollars? Those questions are at the heart of the debate over a bill to restrict voting to U.S. citizens.

Keep ReadingShow less
people walking through a polling place

Election workers monitor a little-used polling place in Sandy Springs, Ga., during the state's 2022 primary.

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What November election? Half of the U.S. House is already decided.

Troiano is the executive director ofUnite America, a philanthropic venture fund that invests in nonpartisan election reform to foster a more representative and functional government. He’s also the author of “The Primary Solution.”

Last month, Americans were treated to an embarrassing spectacle: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) tradingpersonal insults related to “fake eyelashes” and a “bleach blonde bad built butch body” during a late-night committee hearing. Some likened it to Bravo’s “Real Housewives” reality TV series, and wondered how it was possible that elected officials could act that way and still be elected to Congress by the voters.

The truth is, the vast majority of us don’t actually elect our House members — not even close. Less than 10 percent of voters in Crockett’s district participated in her 2024 Democratic primary, which all but guaranteed her re-election in the safe blue district. Greene ran unopposed in her GOP primary — meaning she was re-elected without needing to win a single vote. The nearly 600,000 voters in her overwhelmingly red district were denied any meaningful choice. Both contests were decided well before most voters participate in the general election.

Keep ReadingShow less