Bad news day for Democrats
On top of the official passing of the gavel from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner, Democrats had this bit of rotten news to ponder:
In 2010, 31% of Americans identified as Democrats, down five percentage points from just two years ago and tied for the lowest annual average Gallup has measured in the last 22 years. While Democrats still outnumber Republicans by two points, the percentage identifying as independents increased to 38%, on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the last two decades.
But the real news is the degree to which Republicans have won over, at least for now, independents:
Perhaps equally significant is that the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans has increased only slightly to 29% during this time, and remains on the low end of what Gallup has measured the past two decades.
Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year for Republicans, given the party's major gains in the midterm elections. Those gains were in part driven by the party's appeal to independents, evident in the strong support for Republican congressional candidates among independent voters.
Independents' increasing affinity for the GOP is also evident in a separate measure of party affiliation Gallup tracks, which takes into account the party leanings of independents. In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party's smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.
Republicans should be wary, however. Just as quickly as they gained independent followers, they can lose those voters if they fail to live up to their promises on spending, the debt and transparent government. As for Democrats, they should engage in some self-reflection about playing to the most liberal elements in their base.
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