Is ‘Independent’ really America’s political affiliation of choice? It’s a dicey question.
The question–How many political Independents are there in America?–doesn’t have a definitive answer. That’s because answers follow different routes–from self-reports and from voter registration records, primarily, and each data source is different and limited. Here’s why and how.
For self-reporting of political preference, the Gallup organization asks the same question multiple times a year and, then, reports what it finds—Democrat, Republican, and Independent. Find those data here. Here’s a summary:
GALLUP (median results of twelve polls, Jan-July 2019):
Pew Research also collects self-report data. Based on its research, Pew concludes that 93% of Independents are ‘leaners,’ that is, they either lean Democrat or Republican. The other 7% (the ‘Independent Independents’) tend to avoid politics. For more info, go here. Here’s a summary:
PEW (from March 2019):
Republicans 26% with Repubs+Leaners=39%
Democrats 31% with Dems+Leaners=48%
Independents 37% (with No-Lean Independents 7%).
Only 31 states require registrants to identify party preference when they register to vote. Consequently, there isn’t an answer to the question of how many U.S. voters–in total–are Independent.
For example, I live part of the year in Michigan and part of the year in Florida. Michigan is one of the 19 states that doesn’t require party preference as part of the voter registration process. Florida does.
Here’s what I found for Florida. Independents are the fastest-growing political preference among the state’s registered voters (+47% from 2004-2014). I also found that Independents are 27% of FL’s registered voters (as of June 30, 2019). Democrats come in at 37%, and Republicans register at 35%. The number of FL Independents is large—over 3.6 million registered voters.
For a summary of what’s happening in other states, I recommend reviewing data presented in the June 2019 issue of Governing.
For a 31-state profile, Ballot Access News is a good information source. According to BAN, the national picture–specifically for 62% of the states that register voters by affiliation–looks like this:
Independents + Minor Parties, 30%.
Rasmussen News is another good source of voter registration data. Rasmussen’s data 1)reports the U.S. total, 2) breaks down the numbers state-by-state, and 3) adds the District of Columbia to the totals. What do the 31-state + DC numbers tell us? The breakdown looks like this:
According to Rasmussen, there are 111 million registered voters in those 32 jurisdictions. 31.5 million voters registered as Independent.
Another interesting feature of Rasmussen’s reporting is that it identifies which registered political affiliation ranks #1 among registered voters in each of the 31 states and in the District. The 32-jurisdictional breakdown goes like this:
Democrat #1 N=14
Republican #1 N=8
Independent #1 N=10.
The two data sources–self-reporting and voter registration–aren’t the same. Rather than pick one source ‘as gospel,’ here’s a third option: When you report the size of “Independent America” always provide source information regarding the percentage/number you report. Demand the same approach from others.
Don’t low-ball or high-ball the numbers!
Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus. Michigan State University. He writes about independent politics at LA Progressive.