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“Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life.” John F.Kennedy

Democrats Have Made Only Marginal Gains In Party ID

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Charles Franklin, Professor Emeritus at UW-Madison, offers this deep dive into party identification trends just for Political Wire members.

There has been a good bit of discussion about what has happened to party identification, specifically Republican identification since Trump took office. So let’s look and see what the data show.

It is good to look not just at the last year. A longer perspective reveals a lot about partisan change.

Back in 2004, Democratic and Republican partisans were near parity, with Republicans taking a lead around the 2004 election. This was the time of Karl Rove’s hope for a “permanent Republican majority”.

But those hopes faded during 2005 as the GOP advantage disappeared and continued to decline into 2007 when it leveled off at 27% to 28%, while Democrats fluctuated between 32% and 35%, taking that advantage into the 2008 election.

With Barack Obama in the White House, Democratic partisans in turn began to fade, falling to 29% to 30% for most of 2010–2018, with a short-lived recovery in the run-up to the 2012 reelection.

The Obama years didn’t lead to a surge among Republican partisans, however. Their 27% to 29% share held until 2012, declined to 24 in 2013 before climbing back to 28 at the 2016 election.

Since the 2016 election, Republican partisans have slipped from 28% to 24% as of January 7. That four-point decline brings them back to their low point of the 2004–2018 period. Still, it is a 4 point drop so far, not more.

The big picture for partisans however is that both the Democrats and Republicans have lost partisan faithful over the past 14 years. Democrats are down over 6 points from their high and Republicans are down 12 points from their peak.

So are the parties withering away? Not exactly. Independents who lean to one or the other party have grown a bit. Republican leaners were barely 10% in 2005–06 but are now 15%.

Democrats Have Made Only Marginal Gains In Party ID

Most of that GOP leaner growth came after the 2006 and especially after the 2008 elections. Since 2009 GOP leaners have fluctuated a bit around 15% without consistent trend up or down.

Democratic leaners rose from 13 to 18 from 2005–2007, then declined back to 13 in 2010 and have since climbed to nearly 18% again as of 2018.

So if we judge from partisans alone, the Democrats have been completely flat from early 2014 to the present, while Republicans gained about four points over 2014 through 2016 only to see all of those gains lost in 2017.

The recent past, from 2015 to 2018 has seen a 2–3 point gain among Democratic leaners while Republican leaners are down 1–2 points over that period, though flat since mid-2016.

So if the Democrats are mostly flat, and there has been a bit of GOP decline, where have people gone? Pure independents are up recently, by just over 3 percentage points since the 2016 election.

Democrats Have Made Only Marginal Gains In Party ID

Pure independents have not grown substantially in 14 years, holding close to their long term 8.2% average until rising slightly after 2014, falling by 2016 and now rising three to four points in 2017.

If we define “independents” to include those who admit they lean to a party, there is quite a different story. Since 2014 independents+leaners has grown from 29% to 44% of the population, an impressive 15 point increase.

As we saw above, that rise comes almost entirely from independents who lean to a party, not from those entirely disconnected from either party.

Leaners are not as strong in their partisanship as are pure partisans, though they vote substantially for the party to which they lean. Thus they provide a significant support for their party, but also a somewhat less reliable one.

Combining partisans and leaners, Democrats have held a 5 point advantage since mid-2015, which has grown to an 8 point lead at the beginning of 2018. Republican supporters are now near their recent lows of 2006–2008 at 38% to 39%.

Democrats Have Made Only Marginal Gains In Party ID

Democrats have not seen substantial recent growth and stand a point below their long term average and 5 points below their high of 51–52% in 2007–08.

Bottom line: There is evidence for some erosion of GOP partisanship in 2017 though I think it is more modest decline than some would suggest. That has not been accompanied by any substantial Democratic gains in 2017.


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Posted on 12.02.2018 01:17
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