by Chris Bowers, Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 09:25:21 AM EDT
Partisan Self-Identification, 2004-2007
|Date||Democrats||Indy / Other||Republicans|
This corresponds with the long-term trend of increasing voting registration outside the Democratic and Republican folds:
Long-term voter registration trends, % of all registered voters
|Year||Democratic||Republican||Indy / Other|
This appears to be rock-solid evidence documenting the rise of Independent voters nationwide and long-term. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all Independents are the same. Most, but not all, self-proclaimed Independents will, when pushed, identify with one of the two major parties. Interestingly, Pew shows, in the image on the right, that the number of self-proclaimed independents who refuse to identify with one of the two major parties has remained constant in a range of 12-15% of the population since 1990.
So, while the number of people self-identifying as Independents without being pushed has gone up since 1990, after Independents are pushed the number of "true" Independents has remained constant. Further, exit polls from every presidential election since 1976 show that that percentage of self-identified Independents has remained in a narrow range of 23-27% of the electorate since 1980. In fact, Independents peaked as a percentage of the electorate in the post-watergate election of 1976, at 41%. So, while the number of people registering to vote as something besides Democrats or Republicans has increased dramatically since the mid-1970's, the number of voters who self-identify as Independents in presidential elections has now changed much. This probably the result of gradually decreasing turnout among Independents, and the tendency for independent self-identification to drop in presidential election years.
Overall, what this data shows is that while there is, in fact, a slow drift away from the two parties, Independents are not a rising force in American politics just yet. While there is a general tendency toward decreasing identification with, and participation in, the Democratic and Republican parties, Independents have still not turned away from the two-party system. It is possible that the increasing tendency of Americans to register with other parties (or with no parties), and that their increasing tendency to not identify with either major party unless pushed represents the first stage is a shift away from the two-party system. However, until third party candidates start performing at higher levels, the change is not particularly significant and that longer term trend cannot be proven. Right now, most Independents actually are either Democrats or Republicans, they just don't like calling themselves such. In fact, third party performance is actually declining. While that may change in either a few years or a few decades, I for one am not holding my breath.