Party membership trends give Republicans no reason to celebrate, with Democrats widening their numerical rank-and-file advantage over a GOP struggling to find its footing after losing the presidency and both chambers of Congress in November, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
The poll found that nearly half – 49% – of Americans identify as Democrats or independents leaning toward Democrats, while a combined 40% are Republican or GOP-leaning. That first-quarter 2021 advantage is the biggest since the fourth quarter of 2012, during which President Barack Obama won his second presidential election. Without including independents leaning one way or the other, Republicans fared worse, with 25% of the public calling themselves members of the GOP, just a few percentage points higher from Gallup polling’s all-time low of 22% in 2013. Gallup found that 30% of Americans identify strictly as Democrats.
Cartoons on the Republican Party
The numbers align with trends Republicans saw after the failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, with tens of thousands of Republicans, many in battleground states, switching their party registrations to independent or Democrat.
“Their support is kind of disappearing. They’re hemorrhaging supporters,” says Gallup senior editor Jeff Jones. The party has a long time to recover and woo back rank-and-file members before the 2022 midterms, Jones says, noting that midterms in a president’s first term tend to favor the party out of power.
But this cycle, the math is more complicated for Republicans, experts say. Former President Donald Trump remains a polarizing figure overall but is causing fissures within the GOP as well – and at a time when Republicans need to band together if they want to win elections.
In the aftermath of the Capitol riots, many Republicans took the extraordinary step of changing their party registrations, a dramatic move, considering there was no upcoming election that spurred the actions.
“This is absolutely something they wanted to do to make a personal statement about which party they belonged to” – and it wasn’t the GOP, says University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald, who tallies registration and voter trends through his nonpartisan United States Elections Project.
“What was happening in mid-January was probably already happening” to the party. It’s just that people were not taking the affirmative step of actually changing their registrations from GOP to Democrat or independent, McDonald says. “This survey is confirming … a broader movement.”
An analysis of voter rolls by Colorado Public Radio, for example, found that about 4,600 Republicans changed their party status in the week January 6-12, without similar trends for other parties. Other news organizations found flips from GOP registration in other states – at least 6,000 in North Carolina, 10,000 in Pennsylvania and 5,000 in Arizona.
That doesn’t mean those voters will reject GOP candidates at the…