How Many ‘Independents’ Are There in America?

‘Independent’ is America’s political affiliation of choice. But is it?  


Unfortunately, a fundamental question–how many Independents there are in America–doesn’t have a definitive answer. That’s because answers come via different routes–from self-reports and voter registration records. Each data source is different, and each source is limited.

SELF-REPORTS

Courtesy: Verywellmind.com

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):

Republicans 27%

Democrats 29.5%

Independent 40.5%

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. Furthermore, The other 7% (what I call ‘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%).

 VOTER REGISTRATIONS

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.

Courtesy: League of Women Voters

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 is one of the 31 states that do.

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 across the country, I recommend reviewing data presented in the June 2019 issue of Governing.

What’s the 31-state profile? Ballot Access News is a good information source. According to BAN, the national picture (for 62% of the states that register voters by affiliation) looks like this:

Democrats 40%

Republicans 30%

Independents + Minor Parties, 30%.

Rasmussen News is another good source of voter registration data. Rasmussen reports the U.S. total, breaks down the numbers state-by-state, and also adds the District of Columbia to the totals. What do the 31-state + DC numbers tell us? The breakdown looks like this:

Democrat 40%

Republican 29%

Independent 28%

Other 2%.

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.

TAKEAWAY MESSAGE

The two data sources 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!

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Frank A. Fear is professor emeritus. Michigan State University. He writes about independent politics at LA Progressive.

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