On average, Americans’ political party inclinations were consistent with past years in 2021, with slightly more individuals in the United States identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic (46%), than as Republicans or leaning Republican (46%). (43 percent ).
However, the full-year average conceals a significant change in 2021, from a nine-point Democratic lead in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican lead in the fourth quarter.
These findings are based on aggregated data from all Gallup telephone polls conducted in the United States in 2021, which comprised interviews with more than 12,000 randomly selected individuals in the United States.
Gallup asks every American it interviews whether they consider themselves to be Republicans, Democrats, or independents. Independents are then questioned about their political affiliations with the Republican or Democratic Parties. The combined proportion of party identifiers and leaners provides insight into the two parties’ relative political strength.
Both the nine-point Democratic lead in the first quarter and the five-point Republican lead in the fourth quarter are among the greatest Gallup has found for either party in any quarter since 1991, when it started routinely monitoring party identification and leaning.
Democrats led by nine points in the first quarter, their highest margin since the fourth quarter of 2012, when Democrats also led by nine points. Between 1992 and 1999, Democrats maintained double-digit margins in isolated quarters and practically continually between mid-2006 and early 2009.
Since 1991, the GOP has had a five-point lead in just four periods. Republicans last maintained a five-point lead in party identification and leaning in early 1995, after their first House majority since the 1950s. Republicans gained a greater edge only in the first quarter of 1991, after President George H.W. Bush’s victory in the Persian Gulf War.
Changes in Presidential Approval Lead to Shifts in Party Preferences
Changes in party choices in 2021 are very certainly related to the popularity of the two individuals who served as president that year. Republican Donald Trump completed his single term in January, after his loss in the 2020 election, with a job approval rating of 34%, the lowest of his presidency. His popularity plummeted more than 10% from Election Day 2020 to Jan. 6, 2021, as the country’s COVID-19 infections and deaths reached then-record levels. He refused to accept the election result, and his supporters rioted at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to prevent Congress from counting the 2020 Electoral College votes.
After assuming office on Jan. 20, Democrat Joe Biden had reasonably high popularity ratings, which remained high into the early summer as COVID-19 cases declined drastically as millions of Americans were vaccinated against the illness. A summer rise in illnesses linked to the coronavirus delta strain demonstrated that the pandemic was far from done in the United States, and Biden’s support ratings started to dwindle. Later, as a result of the messy US departure from Afghanistan, Biden’s approval ratings plummeted into the mid 40s. His approval ratings remain poor as the US struggles with increasing inflation and yet another outbreak of COVID-19 illnesses linked to the virus’s omicron form.
With Trump’s approval rating at an all-time low and Biden enjoying relative popularity in the first quarter, 49% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to 40% who identified as Republicans or Republican leaners.
Democratic affiliation remained strong in the second quarter, but Republican identification started to rebound, reaching to 43%.
Democratic identification and leanings decreased from 49 to 45 percent in the third quarter, as Biden’s approval ratings started to dwindle, while Republican affiliation remained stable.
In the fourth quarter, Republican support increased from 44% to 47%, while Democratic support decreased from 45% to 42%. These fourth-quarter trends corresponded with strong Republican results in 2021 elections, including a Republican win in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and a near-upset of New Jersey’s Democratic incumbent governor. Biden easily won both states in the 2020 presidential election.
The GOP lead, though, may be ebbing, as Gallup’s most recent monthly estimate, from December, showed the two parties almost equal — 46 percent Republican/Republican leaning and 44 percent Democratic/Democratic leaning.
Shifts in Party Identification Occurred in 2021 Among Both Core Party Identifiers and Less Attached Leaners
In each quarter of 2021, fluctuations in party identification were evident in both the proportion of independents identifying with each party and the percentage of independents leaning toward each party, although with a greater movement among leaners than identifiers.
Between the first and fourth quarters, the proportion of Democrats fell two points, while the percentage of Democratic-leaning independents fell five points. Between January and December 2021, Republican identification climbed by three points, while Republican leaners increased by four points.
Democrats Typically Have an Advantage, as they did in 2021.
When all of the 2021 fluctuations are taken into account, the Democrats’ average three-point lead for the whole year is only slightly less than in prior years. Between 2016 and 2020, Democrats enjoyed a five- or six-point lead in party identification, while Republicans held a three-point advantage in 2014 and 2015.
Gallup started tracking party affiliation on a regular basis in 1991, and in most years, considerably more Americans identified as Democrats or independents leaning Democratic than as Republicans or Republican leaners. The notable exception was 1991, when Republicans outnumbered Democrats by a margin of 48 to 44 percent in terms of party identity and leaning. Between 2001 and 2003, as well as in 2010 and 2011, the parties had about similar support.
Presidential elections have been a lot more competitive over the last three decades, and the House and Senate have changed hands a lot between parties. This is no matter which party has a better party affiliation. Part of the reason is that neither party can claim a very large share of core supporters, or people who support the party. The majority of people start out as political independents.
In 2021, an average of 29 percent of Americans said they were Democrats, 27 percent said they were Republicans, and 42 percent said they were not sure. Independents lean toward both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party about the same amount (16 percent ).
The percentage of independent identifiers has risen from 39 percent in 2020 to 41 percent in 2019. This is about the same as the 41 percent measured in 2019. Many times, Gallup has seen a drop in independent voters during a presidential election, but then a rise in them in the year after.
Over the past decade, more and more people have said that they are politically independent than they were in the late 1980s through the early 2000s. In every year since 2011, at least four in 10 Americans have said they were independents, except for 2016 and 2020. Because of this, before 2011, independent identification had never reached 40%.