There are more of US than there are of Democrats or Republicans

First, take a look at the awesome image that combine Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan into one face, and the one that does the same with Kennedy and Nixon. Cool. There was another that did the same with Obama and Bush, but I can’t seem to locate it as a still image online — oh, there it is.

I got excited when I saw those, and thought the piece, headlined “Death of the Duopoly,” would be a sort of UnParty manifesto. But no. When  I want an Unparty Manifesto, I have to write it myself.

Unfortunately, this was one of those pieces that saw the WSJ’s sort of libertarianism as the natural successor to the two parties, going on about how the American people, in their supposed wisdom, are turned against the drug war, and toward paying people to abandon public schools. Ho-hum, the usual. Nothing paradigm-breaking at all.

But the pictures were cool. And while the author of this piece may be confused as to the implications, these data were at least confusing:

Perhaps the most important long-term trend in U.S. politics is the four-decade leak in market share by the country’s two dominant parties. In 1970, the Harris Poll asked Americans, “Regardless of how you may vote, what do you usually consider yourself—a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or some other party?”

Fully 49% of respondents chose Democrat, and 31% called themselves Republicans. Those figures are now 35% for Democrats and 28% for Republicans. While the numbers have fluctuated over the years, the only real growth market in politics is voters who decline affiliation, with independents increasing from 20% of respondents to 28%.

These findings are consistent with other surveys. In January, Gallup reported that the Democrats were near their lowest point in 22 years (31%), while the GOP remained stuck below the one-third mark at 29%. The affiliation with the highest marks? Independent, at 38% and growing. In a survey released in May, the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of independents rose from 29% in 2000 to 37% in 2011…

Yes, there are now more of us than there are of either Democrats or Republicans (at least, according to Gallup and apparently Pew). Maybe when we grow to exceed all the partisans combined, we’ll get somewhere. But at least we’re on our way.

24 thoughts on “There are more of US than there are of Democrats or Republicans

  1. Nick Nielsen

    I was somewhat amused by the author’s apparent assumption that the Tea Party is a good representation of independent voters. In fact, I’ll be chuckling about that one for days.

  2. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Dunno–kinda reminds me of those people who said they couldn’t really decide between Bush and Gore–couldn’t see much difference. Really?

  3. bud

    I would hardly call someone who has endorsed the Republican candidate for president every years since 1980 an independent.

  4. bud

    And a Republican would say, “I would hardly call someone who has endorsed more Democrats than Republicans throughout his time as editorial page editor an independent.”

    State elections don’t count. SC Dems are basically just GOP light.

  5. Brad

    And a Republican would say, “I would hardly call someone who has endorsed more Democrats than Republicans throughout his time as editorial page editor an independent.”

    And that would be a true statement, but just as misleading as what Bud just said. Because it was only a slight majority of Democrats.

    The trend is this, and it’s perfectly consistent with my views: During my years on the editorial board, we endorsed SLIGHTLY more Democrats than Republicans. In the early years of that period, it was more even. But as the Republicans took over the State House, and competed with each other to see who could be more extreme, we started endorsing slightly more Democrats. SC Democrats, mind you — not national Democrats. The kind an independent can find palatable. (The general rule now is that SC Republicans are somewhat more extreme than the national variety, while SC Democrats are more moderate than the national type.)

    Here’s the last analysis I did of those figures, in 2008. Unfortunately, the link to the spreadsheet and links to former posts on the subject are nonfunctional, ever since my old blog transferred over to a new format recently. I haven’t figured out what to do about that, if there IS anything I can do about it. I’m hoping to find that old spreadsheet on a hard drive somewhere, but haven’t yet…

  6. Doug Ross

    There is no middle group of independents. Name any politician and that middle group will probably be split no better than 60-40 on that person.

  7. Brad

    “State elections don’t count.”

    Bud, you’ve been watching way too much TV. The State House, and courthouse, and City Hall, all have a much greater direct impact on your life than Washington does.

    I realize there are a lot of people who don’t realize that. That’s how Nikki Haley got elected talking about Obama and not about South Carolina. But I would hope Bud, or any of my regulars, would know better than to think like that.

  8. Nick Nielsen

    @Doug, That 60-40 split is still more middle-of-the-road than the 80-20 or 90-10 split you would probably get if you asked the party faithful about the same person. And asking about a different person might turn that 60-40 split the other way.

    I suspect that, like me, most independents tend to be more liberal on certain issues and more conservative on other issues, but with less radical positions than the parties. I know I feel that, over the years, both parties have moved away from the center on many of the same issues.

  9. Karen McLeod

    I may be wrong, but I think what Bud is saying is that our state is so conservative that even democrats (in his view) hold the same values and vote the same as republicans do. Our republicans are so “right” as to be off the table.

  10. Doug Ross


    My point was that there is no middle group where there would be agreement on a candidate who was neither a Republican or Democrat. Since we have a primary system that locks in the “best” Republican or “best” Democrat, those in the middle are left to pick one or the other. And that split will be 60-40 at best.

    The system is rigged to exclude third party candidates. And by “system”, I include the media – which ignores third party candidates. Ron Paul recently said that he’d like to run as an independent but the way the system is set up, it is too difficult to get on ballots and participate in the media debates.

  11. bud

    Brad you may be an independent but you’re hardly a moderate. Those two concepts are very different. I would actually regard your brand of politics extremely radical on many issues. Take the Blue Laws. The sensible, pragmatic, moderate, common sense approach for at least the last 20 years is to just get rid of them. When Lexington County voted to do just that you whined that we had talked about it enough! Seriously when I read that I practically fell over laughing. Hadn’t talked about it enough? That was an extrodinarily radical position to take and was even too much for the hyper conservative Lexington County to continue with any longer.

  12. Brad

    Well, as I said, Karen — to a moderate, the national Democratic Party and the SC Republican Party can both be problematic.

    And yeah, I’m from South Carolina (and other places), not from Massachusetts, so that affects my notion of “moderate.”

    Which probably help explains why, when I look at candidates without regard to party, and make individual decisions about each, and you go back years later and compile the decisions and count the Democrats and Republicans, you see a tendency to reject national Democrats, but to have a slight preference for SC Democrats.

    Oh, and as for Bud’s remark that I’ve “endorsed the Republican candidate for president every years since 1980″… well, no I haven’t. I wasn’t in a position to endorse anyone in 1980, 84, 88 or 92.

    But I’ll tell you this — if you look at my own presidential voting record, since 1980, I’ve voted for the Democrat four times and the Republican four times.

    And as I look forward to 2012, I’m thinking Obama looks better than any of the Republicans likely to oppose him. That could change, but… the situation is such that, knowing the players as I do, I would not be at all surprised to see The State endorse the Democrat next year. We came close in 2008. I liked Obama a whole lot more than any other Democrat to get the nomination during my time on the editorial board. But as y’all know, I liked John McCain better than any Republican during that same time period. This led to a split decision on the board, and I was torn enough about it that I encouraged both Warren and Cindi to write columns offering their alternative viewpoints on the endorsement.

    By the way (and if I can find that spreadsheet, I can show you), while our endorsements over time were close to 50-50, they were way lopsided in some election years. Sometimes we went overwhelmingly for Democrats, sometimes for Republicans. That’s because we weren’t trying to balance them; it just worked out that way over time.

  13. bud

    I’ve commented here many times that the GOP in years past was at least a respectible party even if I rarely agreed with them on policy positions. Today however they are pretty close to a lunatic asylum. To suggest the national Democratic Party is less appealing than the national GOP is an outrageous position to take. Take the whole Libya thing. They seem to be opposing the operation simply because of the party of the president. How can anyone respect them on those grounds? And don’t tell me the Democrats oppossed Iraq because of who the president was in 2003. That argument just doesn’t fly.

  14. Brad

    You know what, Bud? I didn’t say that right…

    I don’t like the national Republican Party, either. But the SC Republican Party has become sufficiently problematic that when you look at endorsements over time, there is a slightly greater tendency to back Democrats (since most endorsements are state and local).

    That is, that was the case as of 2008. My figures don’t include 2010. And come to think of it, I believe the paper endorsed mostly Repubicans in 2010, except it went for Sheheen over Haley.

  15. bud

    It’s not that the affairs of state and local government don’t affect my life. It’s just that there is no real democratic party in South Carolina so saying you support an SC democrat is irrelevant. They don’t win and if they did they’d just govern like the GOP lite. Vince Sheehen was a good man but he if he was in Massachusetts he’d run as a Republican. So an endorsement record based on SC elections doesn’t count.

  16. Brad

    Not sure I followed that. But I assure you that Vincent would be a Democrat wherever he went. Just as John Courson — a Republican who does well among his largely Democratic constituents — would also be a Republican anywhere.

    What would happen in Massachusetts would be that Vincent would have trouble in a primary. Because the Democratic Party in Massachusetts is dominated by its left wing, just as the Republican Party in SC is dominated by its right wing.

  17. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Vincent could be a Republican in Maine…

    John Courson does well round here because a lot of people who know him think highly of him–and he isn’t a whack job Republican. I think if he didn’t have a lot of friends in Shandon, he might not do so well here.

  18. bud

    The political landscape in this country would be just about right if we just had the Democratic Party and got rid of the GOP alltogether. We could divide it into 3 factions with the Blue Dogs making up the right. Then moderates like the President could make up the second faction. Then a liberal wing with folks like Dennis Kucinich leading the way. This new 3 party system would feature all the resonable political positions and a lively debate would ensure issues are properly aired. In the end these factions would deliberate and sometimes reach concensus but usually some type of compromise would prevail. Wouldn’t that type of world be wonderful.

    Of course there would be fringe groups like the Tea Party but they would be largely ignored by the media as they really shouldn’t be taken seriously.

  19. Doug Ross


    “reasonable political positions”

    Good one. I’m assuming the reasonable position would include deciding whether to tax the people who create jobs at 75% or 90%.

  20. bud

    Who exactly is it that is creating jobs right now Doug? Big companies are hoarding cash like crazy since demand for goods and services is so low (and because they’re greedy). Small companies are in no position to hire and no one is proposing big tax hikes on legitimatally small companies. If we do tax the big companies more it won’t affect job creation since there isn’t any to start with. I say go for it and tax the rich and use the revenues to create an effective jobs program. Eventually we can ease the tax burden on companies who actually do create jobs.

  21. bud

    My dream political world would place Dennis Kucinich somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. He would be fighting to prevent the radical left from offering free medical care for face lifts while those on the right would be the ones fighting for the public option. Gone would be the days when we consider private health insurance companies the only legitimate player in the healthcare debate.

    Gone would be the days when a president would consider foreign intervention into harmless nations anything other than a far-fetched Rambo-type movie script. The military budget debate would focus on whether to retain 5 aircraft carriers or simply to get rid of the carrier fleet alltogether.

    Gone would be the days when the richest 1% of Americans would control half the nation’s assets. The left/right debate would consider a tax policy that have a top marginal tax rate of around 50% vs 70%. A debate that considered whether to tax short-term capital gains higher or the same as wages.

    And never again would we debate the prospect of building more coal or nuclear power plants. Instead we would debate whether to ban gasoline only automobiles as a way to reduce our carbon footprint.

    In my dream political world we would be a nation of pragmatists learning to live on less and respect each other more. We would be a healthy nation free from government control of people’s basic rights to choose their entertainment venue, health treatments and recreational outlets of choice. Gone would be the days when big brother would interfere in reproductive rights. The only debate would be how much to subsidize contraceptives and pregnancy terminations.

    Too bad it will never happen.


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