In 2018, more Americans self-identified as independents than those who considered themselves either Republicans or Democrats. Gallup tracking found that 42% of Americans said they were independents, compared to 30% who said they were Democrats and 26% who said they were Republicans. This number of independents today is almost ten points higher than in 1988 (33%), while the Democratic and Republican numbers are lower than they were thirty years ago (36% and 31%, respectively).
Gallup also asked independents to which party they “lean.” Including these independent leaners, 47% of Americans said they identified or leaned Democrat, while 41% identified or leaned Republican. Democrats have consistently held an advantage on this measure since the early 1990s. It was highest in 2008, when 52% said the identified or leaned Democrat and only 40% said they identified or leaned Republican. Republicans earlier closed the gap in 2002, when both parties were tied at 45%, and again in 2010, when both parties were at 45%.
According to Gallup, each party’s base continues to shrink as the political system grows to be more polarized, boosting the number of independents. To win in years ahead, Republicans must focus not only on turning out their base but also on giving independents a reason to support the GOP, as they did in 2002 and 2010.