A Deeper Look at Party Identification

It’s of no surprise to anyone that the partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats has widened over the past two-three years.  Our recent national poll (April 19-21, 800 registered voters) pegs the partisan affiliation data at 30% GOP, 37% DEM and 32% IND.  In an effort to probe a little deeper into the GOP attrition, we asked Republicans, Democrats and Independents whether they had always affiliated with their partisan choice, or was there a time when they considered themselves a different partisan stripe.

First of all, we found that two-thirds of voters (66.4%) say they have always adhered to their political partisanship and have not strayed.  And, we found between one-fifth and one-quarter of current partisans used to consider themselves supporters of the other party.

And, interestingly, when we recalculated the data to include the lapsed partisans with their former parties, we find Democrats with a slim 41%-38% margin in party affiliation – very similar to national data from President George W. Bush’s first term in office.

The data shows that fully 16.8% of all voters in the electorate say they used to consider themselves Republicans, and no longer do.

Here’s a few of our key findings:

  • There’s probably a pretty good reason why some polling has shown Independents not as glowing in their support of President Obama and more willing to opt for “checks and balances”in the 2010 election – current Independents seem to “lean” toward the GOP.

    While 51% of Independents say they have always been Independent, fully 31% describe themselves as former Republicans, compared to 16% who say they are former Democrats.

    These Independent former-GOP’ers tend to be white men, southerners, suburban voters with college degrees, moderate or conservative in political ideology and married.

  • While 71% of Republicans say they have always described themselves that way, 25% say they are former Democrats and just 3% former Independents.

    These former Democrats tend to be older (half are 55+), white, non-Northeast residents, non-rural, higher educated and conservative.

  • Finally, 77% of Democrats say they have always been D’s, 18% are former R’s, and 4% are former Independents.

    Not unexpectedly, Democrats who are former GOP’ers tend to be white suburban women, lower educated and moderate in political ideology.  (Sounds like the profile of the usual swing voter in most states/districts.)

For Republicans, this data reinforces the need to put aside the outdated targeting recipe for victory (95% of R’s, 55% of I’s, 10% of D’s) and replace it with one that calls for more cross-party partisan support in order to achieve victory (95% of R’s, 60% of I’s, 15%-20% of D’s).  The current partisan affiliation data is the clear death knell for the “base-style” campaigns favored by some in the early part of this decade.

Public Opinion Strategies