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Pew survey analyzes Independent, Democratic, and Republican voter trends

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

As partisan gridlock intensifies, the Pew Research Center's constant monitoring of Independent voters continues to reveal the building momentum of the non-partisan movement. 

In a recent Pew survey primarily focused on the GOP courting white voters who voted overwhelmingly for President Obama, a game-changing phenomenon emerged. Since 1990, the Independent movement has steadily grown and now commands about the same percentage of support as Democrats.

Most recently, in what may be reflective of Independents' outlook of President Obama's leadership, Pew says that Democrats now hold a much narrower edge with this particular demograpic (whites) than they did in 2008. Although the GOP has made huge gains with white voters, going from a two point edge in 2008 to a thirteen point lead today, the Center's research largely credits Independents for being behind the current drop in Democratic support.

Overall, partisan affiliation with the Democratic party has fallen from a quarter century high in 2008. From 1990 to 2011, Independents have grown steadily from 28% to 34%. This outpaces the percentage of Republicans, whose current identification of voters matches the 28% that Independents had a few times in the past eleven years. 

Even though more Independents lean Republican now compared to 2008, going from 11%- 16%, the Democrats' fall from grace doesn't automatically translate into votes for the Republican Party. Pew gives two reasons for this. First, while the 2010 midterms may have been good for Republicans, the gains that they made that year haven't continued as the overall balance of partisan attachments has held steady for the first half of 2011. Second, even though many Independents may lean toward Republicans, registration in the party has remained relatively stagnant.  Combining Independents who lean right or left with partisans, Democrats only have a four point advantage over Republicans in the Pew Center's calculations.

While Democrats have done very well among minorities, especially with Black voters, Barack Obama and the Democrats also face a big challenge in courting Hispanics. A recent poll conducted by Generation Opportunity indicated that strong majorities of young Hispanics are uneasy about levying taxes on individuals and small businesses to get the federal budget under control. Instead, they favor spending cuts.

Yet, this doesn't automatically translate into votes for the GOP. But, if these young Hispanic voters stay home, this does translate into more of an advantage for Republicans given the resurgence of whites that now support them. With more whites supporting the GOP now than in 2008, Republicans hold a  52%-39% advantage over their Democratic colleagues.

Besides Independents, the youth vote will also be a factor to watch in 2012. While the youth are predominately Democrats or lean that way by 52%-39%, that is a much smaller margin compared to 2008.  The changes in party identification over time are based on compiling 223 surveys and 300,000 interviews among registered voters by the Pew Research Center from January 1990 to June 2011.

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