Party identification tendencies can often be strong indicators of how a party will fare in House elections.
(Washington) — A new Gallup analysis examined the shift in Americans’ partisan preferences through 2021, with results that indicate momentum for Republicans heading into this midterm election year.
Gallup found that Americans’ party preferences were relatively stable through 2021 as a whole. But when the year was broken down into quarters, there was a noticeable change. In the first quarter of 2021, Democrats had a 9-point advantage over Republicans, but by the last quarter of the year that edge had swelled sharply to a 5-point Republican advantage, according to aggregate data from Gallup.
“The 9-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter and the 5-point Republican advantage in the fourth quarter are among the largest Gallup has measured for each party in any quarter since it began regularly measuring the identification and party leaning in 1991,” writes Jeffrey Jones, editor of Gallup.
Party identification tendencies can often be strong indicators of how a party will fare in House elections. And more in Washington are already predicting a grim outcome for Democrats in November, both in the House and the Senate.
“I think what we’re seeing is more meaningful for the medium term and maybe not hugely meaningful for the long term,” said Christine Matthews, a veteran Republican pollster.
Matthews pointed to the “generic ballot,” a polling question that asks voters whether they will vote Democrats or Republicans for Congress. She saw a similar trend in the fourth quarter on this issue, with Republicans holding an advantage over Democrats.
“By the time we get into the summer, if the Democrats are still tied on the wildcard ballot, it’s going to be a midterm disaster for them,” Matthews said. “And they usually have to lead 5-7 points to do well.”
Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who worked on former President Barack Obama’s campaigns, cautioned against making “general statements” based on limited data. But he said the existing data suggests trends typical of a presidential party heading into a midterm election year.
“What you have over and over again…mid-term is that one side is demobilized and the other is mobilized. And right now it looks like a classic midterm election for the ruling president’s party, where their voters are showing signs of lack of enthusiasm and demobilization all the way,” he said. .
The changes Gallup found in 2021 occurred both among self-identified supporters and independents who leaned toward one party or the other. Between the first quarter of 2021 and the fourth quarter, for example, the percentage of Democratic-leaning independents fell by five points. Among Republican-leaning independents, there was a 4-point increase over the same period.
Belcher pointed out that party identification is fluid and can also be seen as a measure of enthusiasm.
“If you see your voters who were independent Republicans and they go back to the Republican segment, for me it’s a question of energy and the possibility of mobilization,” he said. “And if you see those softer Democrats backing off, that’s also something for me that’s not far off a measure of enthusiasm.”
Gallup also found that self-identified independents remain the largest political group in the United States.
Overall in 2021, they found that 42% of Americans identified as independents, compared to 29% who identified as Democrats and 27% as Republicans. Among independents, roughly equal shares leaned toward each major political party in 2021.
Americans have increasingly identified as independent over the past decade, according to Gallup. Prior to 2011, the share of Americans who identified as independent had never reached 40%.