The preferences of American political parties have changed significantly in 2021

Story Highlights

  • Preferences shifted from a nine-point Democratic advantage to a five-point GOP advantage
  • Average party preferences for all of 2021 similar to previous years
  • Largest percentage of American adults identify as political independents

WASHINGTON, DC — On average, Americans’ political party preferences in 2021 looked similar to previous years, with slightly more American adults identifying as Democrats or Democratic-leaning (46%) than identifying as Republican or Republican-leaning (43%).

However, the overall stability of the full-year average masks a dramatic shift over the course of 2021, from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican advantage in the fourth quarter.

Line graph. Quarterly averages of US party identification and leaning in 2021. In the first quarter of 2021, 49% of US adults identified as Democrat or Democratic-leaning, while 40% identified as Republican or Republican-leaning. In the second quarter, 49% were Democrats or Democrats, and 43% were Republicans and Republicans. In the third quarter, 45% were Democrats and Democrats, and 44% Republicans and Republicans. In the fourth quarter, 42% were Democrats and Democrats, and 47% were Republicans and Republicans.

These findings are based on aggregated data from all Gallup phone surveys in the United States in 2021, which included interviews with more than 12,000 randomly sampled American adults.

Gallup asks all Americans it interviews whether they identify politically as Republican, Democrat or Independent. Independents are then asked whether they lean more toward the Republican or Democratic party. The combined percentage of party identifiers and leanings gives a measure of the relative strength of the two parties politically.

The nine-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter and the five-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.

  • The first-quarter Democratic lead was the biggest for the party since the fourth quarter of 2012, when Democrats also had a nine-point advantage. Democrats held larger double-digit advantages in isolated neighborhoods between 1992 and 1999 and almost continuously between mid-2006 and early 2009.

  • The GOP has held a five-point lead in a total of just four quarters since 1991. Republicans last held a five-point advantage in party identification and leaning in early 1995, after having taken control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1950s. The Republicans did not have a greater advantage until the first quarter of 1991, after the victory of the United States in the Persian Gulf War led by then-President George HW Bush.

Changes in party preference follow changes in presidential approval

The shift in party preferences in 2021 is likely linked to changes in the popularity of the two men who served as presidents during the year. Republican Donald Trump ended his single term in January, after losing in the 2020 election, with a job approval rating of 34%, the lowest of his term. His popularity plummeted more than 10 points from Election Day 2020 as COVID-19 infections and deaths in the country hit then-record highs, he refused to acknowledge the election result and his supporters rioted in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an effort to stop Congress from counting the 2020 Electoral College votes.

Democrat Joe Biden enjoyed relatively high approval ratings after taking office on Jan. 20, and his approval remained high in the early summer as COVID-19 infections dropped dramatically after millions of Americans have been vaccinated against the disease. A summer surge of infections linked to the delta variant of the coronavirus made it clear that the pandemic was not over in the United States, and Biden’s approval ratings began to drop. Later, the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan caused Biden’s ratings to plummet further, into the low 40s. Its ratings remain weak as the United States battles rising inflation and a new wave of COVID-19 infections, linked to the omicron variant of the virus.

With Trump’s approval rating at a low point and Biden relatively popular in the first quarter, 49% of Americans identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning, compared to 40% who were Republican or Republican-leaning.

In the second quarter, Democratic membership remained high, while Republican membership began to recover, rising to 43%.

The third quarter saw a decline in Democratic identification and leaning, from 49% to 45%, as Biden’s ratings began to falter, while there was no significant change in Republican affiliation. .

In the fourth quarter, party support swung as Republicans rose from 44% to 47% and Democratic affiliation fell from 45% to 42%. These fourth-quarter shifts coincided with strong GOP performances in the 2021 election, including a Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election and a near-traffic ticket from the incumbent Democratic New Jersey governor. Biden won both states by double digits in the 2020 election.

The GOP’s advantage may be starting to fade, however, as Gallup’s latest monthly estimate, from December, showed the two parties were roughly even – 46% Republican/Republican leaning and 44% democrat/democrat tendency.

2021 changes have occurred among base part identifiers and less attached learners

Changes in party affiliation in each quarter of 2021 were apparent in both the percentage identifying with each party and the percentage of independents leaning towards each party, but with more changes among learners than identifiers .

Between the first and fourth quarters, the percentage of Democratic identities fell two points, while the percentage of Democratic-leaning independents fell five points. Republican identification increased by three points between the start and end of 2021, while Republican leanings increased by four points.

Changes in party identification and orientation, by quarter, 2021

In politics today, do you consider yourself — [a Republican, a Democrat] — or an independent? // As of today, are you leaning more toward — [Democratic Party or the Republican Party]?

2021-I 2021-II 2021-III 2021-IV
% % % %
Democrat 30 31 28 28
Democratic-leaning independent 19 18 17 14
Independent not leaning ten 5 8 9
Republican-leaning independent 15 17 16 19
Republican 25 26 28 28
Percent no opinion not shown
Gallup

Democrats generally hold an edge, and have done so in 2021

When all of 2021’s changes are offset, the Democrats’ average three-point advantage for the entire year is only slightly lower than it has had in recent years. Democrats held five- or six-point advantages in party affiliation every year between 2016 and 2020, and three-point advantages in 2014 and 2015.

Gallup began measuring party leaning regularly in 1991, and in most years far more Americans identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents than Republicans or Republicans. The main exception was 1991, when Republicans held a 48% to 44% advantage in party identification and leaning. From 2001 to 2003 and in 2010 and 2011, the parties had roughly equal levels of support.

Line graph. Annual averages of US party identification and orientation between 1991 and 2021. In most years, more Americans identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning than identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning. Republicans only had an advantage in 1991, 48% to 44%. The largest advantage for Democrats was in 2008, 52% to 40%.

Independents are still the largest political group in the United States

Regardless of which party has an advantage in party affiliation, over the past three decades presidential elections have generally been competitive and party control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate has changed hands. Many times. That’s partly because neither party can claim a very high share of core supporters — those who identify with the party — because the largest proportion of Americans initially identify as political independents.

Overall in 2021, an average of 29% of Americans identified as Democrats, 27% as Republicans, and 42% as Independents. Roughly equal proportions of independents leaned towards the Democratic Party (17%) and the Republican Party (16%).

The percentage of independents is up from 39% in 2020, but similar to the 41% measured in 2019. Gallup has often seen a decrease in the number of independents in a presidential election and an increase the following year .

The broader trend toward a growing share of political independents has been clear over the past decade, with more Americans considering themselves independents than in the late 1980s through the 2000s. At least four Americans out of 10 have considered themselves independent in every year since 2011, with the exception of the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Prior to 2011, independent identification had never reached 40%.

Line graph. Annual averages of party identification, from 1988 to 2021. Since 1998, more Americans have generally identified as Democrats than as Republicans. Over the past decade, independents have vastly outnumbered supporters of either party.

Conclusion

2021 has been a turbulent year in politics, following an equally turbulent 2020 which also saw major shifts in party preferences. As 2021 begins, Democratic strength has reached levels not seen in nearly a decade. In the third quarter, those Democratic gains evaporated as Biden’s job approval dwindled. The political winds continued to grow more Republican-friendly in the fourth quarter, giving the GOP an advantage over the Democrats greater than they had secured in more than 25 years.

The final monthly survey for 2021 showed the parties to be of roughly equal strength, although this still represents a deviation from the historical norm that the Democratic Party has at least a slight advantage in party membership. a party.

With control of the House of Representatives and Senate on the line in this year’s midterm elections, party preferences will be a key indicator of which party will be best positioned to secure majorities in the upcoming session of Congress. .

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