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Independent’s Day- Critical citizens among the US voting public


									Independent’s Day: “Critical citizens” among the US voting public

Shaun Bowler, Todd Donovan, Jeffrey Karp & David Lanoue*

*UC Riverside, Riverside, CA; Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA; Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX; University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL; respectively. Paper prepared for presentation at the Southern Political Science Association meetings, New Orleans LA Jan 7-10 2004.


Introduction / Abstract In this paper we look again at the distinction between independent “leaners” and partisans. We find some important similarities between “pure” independents and independents classified as “leaners.” We argue that although independent leaners may be similar to partisans on some measures, they are behaviorally and attitudinally distinct from partisans in important ways. Even more importantly, the behavioral similarity between partisans and leaners changes when there are more than two candidates on offer. The behavioral similarity of leaners to partisans emphasized in previous studies can thus be understood as a product of the forced choice between the two parties that typifies the American political system. When more options are available, independent leaners take advantage of those options and do not remain loyal to the two big parties in the same measure as partisans. The position of independent leaners in the US is thus loosely analogous to the position tactical voters in multi-party systems in that they are compelled by the party system to choose between the lesser of two evils. Our argument suggests that earlier results and interpretations of independents reflected the specific two party choice settings of the 1950s through the 1980s. Furthermore, even assuming a behavioral similarity to partisans, leaners have distinct attitudes towards politics and the political system that put them far away from being standard Michigan model-type voters. We begin by presenting a brief review of the sizable literature on this topic. From here we present some simple evidence that supports an alternative interpretation of leaners as neither partisans nor “pure” independents, but as “critical citizens.”


Independents, leaners and partisanship The Michigan model of voting behavior is a portrait of continuity and stability in a two-party system. The central source of this stability, according to the model, lies in the long-term socialization of party loyalties (Campbell et al 1960). In most elections, the vast majority of voters select the same party they have voted for all their lives. Popular candidates may cause short-term departures from these “normal vote” patterns, but long-term change in the party system should be rare (Key 1955; 1959). From the start, one key theoretical and empirical problem for this model has been the relative status of partisans versus independents. At the time of the original Michigan study, about one-quarter of Americans failed to identify themselves as partisans. The proportion of self-identified independents increased to over one-third of Americans by the late 1970s. As of 2002, 36% identify themselves as “independent” when asked, Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?” Nonetheless, prior to 1980, the model did an adequate job explaining U.S. presidential elections, which were invariably contests between just two candidates. Since then, however, third party and independent presidential candidates have regularly siphoned votes from the major parties. These candidacies frequently bring a substantial measure of unpredictability to elections and produce behavior that fails to conform with our dominant explanation of how independents should act. The Michigan model has survived by classifying a large pool of independent identifiers as de facto partisans. The founders of the Michigan model of voting behavior (Campbell et al. 1960) conceptualized partisanship and independence as separate and discrete dimensions. They believed that voters either had a loyalty to a political party, or


they did not. Thus, in their National Election Study (NES) questionnaires, the authors of The American Voter asked citizens to identify themselves as either Democrats, Republicans, or independents. Respondents who self-identified as partisans were then asked whether their party loyalty was strong or weak. Anticipating bias in their measurement of independence, the NES also asks voters who described themselves as independents whether or not they felt closer to one of the two parties. From this information, Campbell and his colleagues created a seven-point, ordinal-level scale of party identification: Strong Republican; Weak Republican, Independent Leaning Republican, Independent, Independent Leaning Democratic, Weak Democrat, and Strong Democrat. Although this variable remains in common usage among students of American political behavior, it has been the subject of a great deal of debate in the literature. Early challenges came from the emerging rational choice literature, which largely rejected socio-psychological explanations for political behavior (Downs 1957). To rational choice scholars, party identification represented an informational short cut rather than a psychological predisposition. According to this view, although the majority of voters might cast ballots for the same party on a regular basis, they did so not on the basis of childhood socialization, but rather as the result of a dispassionate assessment of the parties’ platforms and records. In other words, party identification, which was presumed to measure loyalty, was actually the product of a “running tally of retrospective evaluations” (Fiorina 1981). It was not only rational choice theorists who criticized the Michigan model. Social-psychological approaches to understanding voting behavior, very much within the


intellectual tradition of Michigan, offered some of the first and strongest criticisms of the seven-point scale, including doubts about the supposed ordinal nature of the measure (Petrocik 1974; Keith et al., 1992; 1986). Some of these scholars reported evidence that, contrary to their placement on the scale, self-identified “leaners” were often more supportive of “their” party than were weak partisans (Keith et al. 1992; 1986). The challenges to the Michigan concept of party identification intensified as the number of self-proclaimed independents grew in the decades immediately following the publication of The American Voter. Figure 1 uses responses to the NES party identification questions to illustrate that there has been growth in all categories of independents since 1952. The proportion of “pure” independents who failed to report leaning toward one of the parties peaked around 1976. Figure 1 demonstrates, however, that there has been a steady increase in independents who report being closer to a major party when asked the follow-up question. These “independent leaners” now comprise over one-quarter of the electorate. Figure 1 about here A number of scholars have argued that partisan dealignment had taken place and suggested that the Michigan model had lost much of its power to explain American political behavior (Nie et al., 1974; Wattenberg 1998). Although voting behavior in some recent multi-candidate presidential elections may have become less predictable than before, early predictions that dealignment would lead to massive party-system change (e.g. Burnham 1982) appear now as having been a bit overstated. Others argued that the apparent phenomenon of dealignment told us more about the weaknesses of the party identification measure than it did about the actual behavior of voters (Keith et al. 1992).


A rejection of self-imposed party labels, they said, did not necessarily indicate a rejection of the Democratic and Republican parties. Rather, in an increasingly cynical world, the notion of loyal partisanship (as revealed to an interviewer) may simply have fallen out of fashion. Keith and his colleagues (1986, 1992), in a comprehensive study of partisanship, independence, and dealignment, concluded that a substantial number of voters who claimed to be independents were, in effect, closet partisans. Indeed, they titled their book on this topic The Myth of the Independent Voter. Although they do not go so far as to say that partisans and independent leaners are indistinguishable, it is clear that they found the boundaries to be at least somewhat blurred. Keith et al. concluded that “initial identification as an independent [on the Michigan scale] reflects self-image rather than partisan neutrality.” That is, respondents might prefer to think of themselves, or present themselves to interviewers, as “independents” but deep down they remained partisans, albeit “closet” partisans (see Dennis 1992). Although it is not quite clear why some people respond to surveys in this way, other than by appeal to general cultural traits such as traditional American individualism - some voters may feel the desire to say they are independent while others remain proud members of a collective grouping. It is not really satisfactory, however, to say that independent leaners differ from partisans only in the sense that they reject party labels as a matter of fashion, as there is evidence that leaners do not always think or behave the same way as self-identified partisans (Dennis 1992, also Dennis 1988a 1988b). Therefore, although the notion of dealignment may or may not be valid (depending on how one defines the concept), the


existence of a large category of independent voters – as something attitudinally and behaviorally distinctive from partisans - is not a myth. What then, can we say about independent leaners and how they think? Dennis (1992) identifies as “Category 5 leaners” those independents who come closest to behaving like closet partisans. He suggests, however, that leaners and weak partisans have very different approaches to politics and voting: While Category 5 leaners are, in the end, strongly partisan, they probably are so relative to a continuing process of personal retesting of their partisan inclinations as each set of new electoral circumstances presents itself. They are fairly unlike weak partisans, who perhaps in a behavioral sense more than in an affective sense, find themselves on one side or the other in a consistent fashion. (p. 288) Weak identifiers, on the other hand, respond positively to the party label, or at least to the idea of partisan self-identification, but they are not especially attentive to the ideological content of election campaigns. “One suspects,” Dennis says, “that it does not take a great deal of information for weak partisans to confirm, in their exposure to the coverage of the primaries or of the political conventions, that they are for the side this time that they are usually for” (Dennis 1992:288). Weak--and, for that matter, strong--identifiers, then, would seem to behave in a manner more consistent with the Michigan notion of a party loyalty that is relatively unaffected by the issues and candidates of the day. On the other hand, the idea that leaners are engaged in a “continuing process of personal retesting of their partisan inclinations” suggests that they act in a manner consistent with rational choice theory. That is, they support one party not out of loyalty, but because their “running tally of retrospective evaluations” leads them to do so.


Discussions over the “true” nature of independent leaners, as opposed to weak partisans, may, at first glance, appear to be trivial. The differing interpretations of “leaning,” however, may have consequences wider than those concerning the theoretical program of the Michigan model. There is a serious political issue at stake here. If it is the case that independence among the electorate simply represents a semantic shift in interview responses, then the party system and electoral politics may continue as before: the two main parties rally their base of loyal supporters at election time, and elections are won and lost on the basis of these mobilization efforts. If, however, “leaners” really are meaningfully different from partisans, then we should see changed electoral circumstances if the support of voters cannot be taken for granted by parties, and if their votes become more motivated by policy concerns or personality than by some long-term party loyalty. This relationship between partisanship and the party system also lies at the heart of our understanding of independent leaners. Party identification is identification with a current set of parties. It makes little sense to ask American voters whether or not they identify with the Conservative or Labour parties since these parties field candidates in an entirely different country. Although this may seem a blindingly obvious comment to make, it does raise a serious point: party identification is endogenous to the party system. This, in turn, begs the question of whether the Michigan notion of party loyalty has been shaped, more than its creators realized, by the unique circumstances of American national elections and the U.S. two-party system. Or, to put it another way, perhaps our understanding of how voters think about partisanship and independence has been limited by the binary choices that typically face American voters on Election Day (and in NES


surveys). Thus, in addition to challenges to the conceptual and operational definitions of party identification, we may also raise concerns about the extent to which institutional factors might affect voters’ responses to the party identification questionnaire items. Indeed, there is some evidence that the nature of the party system may have an influence on whether or not voters choose to identify themselves as partisans or independents. In an intriguing, yet oddly neglected, paper dealing with state-level party identification, Norrander (1989) shows significant variation in the proportion of selfidentified independents across states, and argues that this variation is based, in part, on several institutional factors. She finds, for example, that in states where inter-party competition is strongest, more voters are inclined to choose a party identification. Similarly, fewer citizens are likely to claim status as independents in states where closed primary elections are conducted. Speaking of weak partisans and independent leaners, Norrander concludes that the “distinctiveness of each group might be blurred by state-level factors that push similar individuals into different categories in different states.” (Norrander 1989:534). This blurring is consonant with Dennis’ later conclusion, using individual-level data, that leaners are quite hard to categorize simply (Dennis 1992). Gathering together the strands of this literature we can make several points. First, it is clear that independent leaners do not simply occupy a position on the continuum of partisanship somewhere in between weak partisans and pure independents. Rather, they seem to have a different attitude toward parties and politics than other voters. Second, it is apparent that leaners often behave as though they are closet partisans, and are sometimes more consistently supportive of “their” party than are weak identifiers.


Third, voters’ self-reports of partisanship and independence may be influenced by their institutional context. Our interpretation of leaners relies heavily on these three points. As noted above, the primary measurement item for categorizing respondents is the following: "Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?" The follow-up question given to partisans is: Would you call yourself a strong (REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT) or a not very strong (REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT)?" The follow-up question about intensity makes a great deal of sense: the item asks respondents a qualifier about a trait that they acknowledge having (party loyalty). But here is the follow-up question given to independents: (IF INDEPENDENT, OTHER [1966 and later: OR NO PREFERENCE]:) "Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican or Democratic party?" In a practical sense, this question format allows us to include many independents into the data set by considering them as partisans. If Keith et al. (1992) are correct, then one nice feature of this measure is that it helps to preserve sample size, and is justifiable on the grounds that it is based on revealed behavior: when voting, independent leaners really do display a consistent preference for one party or the other. There is a different perspective on this kind measurement, however. First, it is a forced dichotomous choice. Voters who are reluctant to characterize themselves as partisan are pushed to say which party label fits them best. If Keith et al are right then no harm is done in compelling people to reveal their true preferences. Another perspective can be derived from the strategic voting literature (e.g. Riker 1982; Bowler and Lanoue 1992; Cox 1997). This literature shows that people lacking attachments to parties will


nonetheless vote for the party they see closest to their preferences. By this logic, the follow-up NES question given to independents can be seen as simulating a strategic choice. In essence (indeed, by its very wording), it asks independents to reflect on the location of the two parties, relative to themselves. In the context of a two party system, it is sometimes difficult to test differences between partisans and leaners. In terms of voting behavior, all we observe is the weak Democrat (Republican) and the independent leaning Democrat (Republican) voting for the same candidate. Thus, it might appear on the surface as though the two are indistinguishable, or even that the leaner is seemingly more “loyal” than the weak partisan. However, should the menu of choices change (with, say, the addition of a third choice), they would have to re-examine their assessments accordingly (see, e.g., Bowler and Lanoue 1992). From the late 1950s through most of the 1980s, the period mostly considered by the work cited above, rarely would it have been possible to test the behavior of partisans and leaners in multi-candidate context, at least at the national level. With two exceptions, every presidential election during this period included only two significant candidates, a Democrat and a Republican. The most visible exception is not especially helpful for understanding the behavior of contemporary independents. The election of 1968, which included George Wallace’s third-party candidacy, did not easily lend itself to analysis because much of Wallace’s support came from the single-party (Democratic) southern states. In the last two decades, however, nationally-known third party and independent presidential candidates have frequently appeared on most states’ ballots. John Anderson


received 6.6% of the national vote in 1980 (all total, minor candidates received over 8% in 1980). In 1992, a serious third party challenge was mounted by H. Ross Perot, who ultimately received nearly 20% of the national vote. Perot also ran four years later, with less success (8%). Nonetheless, minor candidates collected over 10% of the presidential vote in 1996. In 2000, the campaign of Ralph Nader also attracted considerable attention – and minor candidates collected enough votes (about 4%) to affect the eventual result. If independent leaners are strategic voters who lack a strong loyalty to either major party, we should find that they are much more likely to abandon “their” party and support a serious third-party candidacy than are their partisan counterparts. In a similar vein, we should find that proposals for electoral reform should find their greatest support among independent leaners. If leaners are closet strategic voters (rather than closet partisans), then they should be frustrated with a system that often compels them to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Specific hypotheses Although we know quite a lot about the predispositions of leaners from the previous literature on this topic, our discussion so far allows us to make a number of specific hypotheses about their attitudes and behavior, hypotheses that center on the relationship of leaners to political parties and the party system: H1: Leaners are more likely than partisans to vote for serious 3rd party candidates when such candidates run. However, when only two parties compete, leaners will be behaviorally similar to partisans. As Table 1 demonstrates, this is clearly the case in 2000, 1996, 1992, and 1980 weak Democratic partisans are compared to independents who report being closer to the


Democrats. In each year, independent “leaners” provided much of the support for third party candidates. In 2000, eight percent of independents reporting they were closer to the Democrats supported Nader, while the NES found no Nader voters among weak or strong Democrats. Six percent of independents leaning toward the Republicans voted for Nader. Put differently, independents classified as leaning Democrat or Republican were infinitely more likely to support Nader than any category of partisans. Independents classified as leaning toward Democrats were more than twice as likely as weak Democrats to vote for Perot in 1996, and were more than three times as likely to vote for Anderson in 1980. Moreover, when we examine support for third candidates since 1980, independent (leaners) closer to the Democrats behaved more like pure independents than weak partisans in 2000, 1996 and 1980 – and much more like pure independents than strong partisans.1 Independent Democrats were also much less supportive of Democratic presidential candidates than even weak partisan Democrats were in these years. On average over these three elections, support for Democratic presidential candidates (Gore, Clinton in 1996 and Carter in 1980) among independents closer to the Democrats was 13% less than what these candidates received from weak Democratic partisans. On the Republican side, however, independent leaners and weak partisans do appear to be similar. Table 1 about here


These post 1980 differences between weak Democratic partisans and independents leaning Democrat, and between leaners and pure independents, are of a greater magnitude than those from 1968. In 1968, independents leaning Democrat were only slightly more likely to support Wallace than weak Democrats (14% to 17%), while Wallace received 18% support from pure independents. 13

It is important to note that when the number of nationally visible candidates drops below three, the contrast between independent Democrat and partisans changes, and these independent leaners then do appear to be closet partisans. For example, when we look voting across these sub-groups in the 1988, 1984, and 1976 elections (see Keith et al 1992:68), independents classified as leaning toward Democrats were more supportive of Democratic presidential candidates than weak Democratic partisan identifiers. This point is the basis of one of the main conclusion that Keith et al derive from their data: the behavior of leaners can be more partisan than that displayed by weak partisans. The Keith et al data series, however, ceased at 1988. Consistent with our hypothesis, the presence of third party candidates changes how independent leaners behave, and these candidates seem to be much more appealing to leaners than they are to partisans.2 As we argue above, the differences between leaners and partisans should not be limited simply to vote choice. This leads to our second and third hypotheses: H2: Leaners, when compared to weak and strong partisans, do not like the current party system, and are more likely to be cooler to political parties as institutions (and not just toward the Democratic and Republican parties). H3: Leaners are more likely than partisans to be supportive of proposals for changes in the current party system. Table 2 shows that independent “leaners” are, indeed, cooler toward political parties than are partisans. Here we see evidence that independents claiming to be closer to the Democrats have evaluations of parties that are closer to evaluations made by pure


Of course, the difference between our findings and Keith et al may be due to the difference in institutional setting (multi-candidate vs. two-candidate races), to a behavioral change in the electorate, or some combination of both. 14

independents than to those made by weak Democratic partisans. Pure independents consistently have the coolest evaluations of parties, with independents close to Democrats not far behind. On average, pure independents are a mere –1.6 degrees cooler in their evaluations of parties than independent Democrats. In contrast, independent Democrats have much cooler evaluations of parties than weak Democrats, with an average difference of -3.7 degrees between these two sub-groups. In short, “leaner” Democrats and pure independents look quite similar on this attitudinal measure. Republican leaners, however, have evaluations that are closer to weak Republicans than pure independents. Furthermore, Table 3 demonstrates that independents were much more likely to disapprove of Congress in 2000 than are either weak Democratic or any Republican partisans, and Table 4 shows that independents leaning Republican also tended to be less supportive of single party control of government. The patterns among independents closer to the Republicans is worth noting. While the GOP controlled both houses of Congress in 2000, Republican independents were more likely than Republican partisans to disapprove of Congress, and were more supportive of divided government. The highest levels of disapproval of Congress, moreover, came from independent Democrats and pure independents. Tables 2 to 4 about here Perhaps the most telling evidence of differences between partisans and independent leaners, and of similarities among independents broadly defined, is displayed in Table 5. As this table indicates, leaners are dramatically different from partisans in their attitudes toward the current U.S. party system. They are far more dissatisfied with the current choices on offer than partisan voters. Moreover, there are far fewer


differences here between independent leaners and pure independents, than between partisans and independent leaners. Each categories of independent shows nearly identically weak support for a continuation of the two party system. Table 5 about here Echoing the work of Dennis, we note that these patterns show that leaners are not really closet partisans of the kind seen in the Michigan model - notwithstanding the interesting attempt by Keith et al attempt to fit independents into that model. There are, however, some important similarities between weak partisans and leaning independents – as well as important differences between pure independents and leaners. Compared to pure independents, so-called independent leaners are much more likely to care about who wins presidential elections. As Tables 6 demonstrates, on this attitudinal measure, “leaning” independents have become mirror images of weak partisans since 1992. Data in Table 6 demonstrate that independent voters who perceive their political orientation relative to the major political parties (and are thus classified as a leaner) became consistently more concerned about election results in the 1990s, when presidential contests became multi-candidate races. Moreover, Table 7 illustrates that independent leaners are consistently more interested in public affairs than weak partisans and pure independents. These patterns show that independent leaners are clearly differently than pure independents on both counts – they are more interested in politics and more attentive to public affairs. Tables 6 and 7 about here True enough, none of the patterns presented in these tables are buttressed by the familiar battery of regression models. For the most part, the patterns are striking enough


that no such models are needed. But what do all these patterns show? We turn to address this question in the next section.

What the patterns show Commenting on data collected prior to 1989, Keith et al (1992:23) wrote “virtually no generalizations about broadly defined “Independents” are correct.” Given such a claim, it is tempting to frame this debate with the familiar phrase “one of these things is not like the others,” where we try to guess whether independents classified as leaners are more like pure independents or partisans. Our argument is that this may not be an especially fruitful way to look at independents who are classified in terms of their self-reported proximity to one of the main parties. True enough, many of the patterns reported in this paper demonstrate that independent leaners are attitudinally and behaviorally quite distinct from partisans – at times looking more like pure independents than weak partisans. More to the point, however, when we move away from two candidate presidential contests, independents classified as leaners are in fact behaviorally distinct from partisans (see Table 1). This does not mean that there is simply one flavor of independent, broadly defined. The patterns in Tables 6 and 7 illustrate that leaners are quite distinct from pure independents in terms of having an interest in politics; at levels comparable to partisans. Plainly, if we change the perspective for comparison, we change the interpretation of which group leaners look more similar to. Echoing Dennis, we might conclude that leaners are neither fish nor fowl within standard kinds of interpretations to date.


We offer a different argument here, and step away from the ‘partisan versus independent’ comparisons to argue that the patterns reported in this paper are consistent with a different perspective. Independents who answer the follow-up question placing them closer to a party do not seem to conform to standard US models of political behavior. Rather, they conform to the newer models that label a category of informed voters who lack party attachments as “critical citizens” (Norris 1999; see also Dalton 2002). Ironically, these “critical citizens might not be too unlike the “civic virtue” model of independent voters that Keith et al (1992) and Campbell et al (1960) dismiss as largely the stuff of myth – albeit their contemporary manifestation may reflect substantial dissatisfaction with the party system. The data reported here demonstrate that many independent “leaners” are attentive citizens dissatisfied with the range of partisan choices they are typically offered on Election Day. Thus, it may not be appropriate to shoe-horn them into other kinds of partisan categories. Parenthetically, this implies we should take more care in using the 7-point party identification scale as an ordinal measure. More directly, this also suggests that concerns over critical citizens found in the comparative study of mass political behavior may well apply in the US setting. Not only is this a different interpretation than the one provided by Keith and his colleagues, it is also a relatively pessimistic interpretation since it suggests that the growing presence of independent leaners is a sign of disappointment with the two-party party system as a whole. Within the standard Michigan framework, party identifications act to tie voters into the political system: it helps to build and strengthen institutional legitimacy. The concern here, then, is not so much the behavioral differences between partisans and leaners, or even the fact that leaners are more prone to vote for minor party


candidates. Rather, the concern is that being a so-called leaner also means looser ties to the party system and a sense of disappointment with it. Of course, the bigger worry is that such disappointment may ultimately translate into wider disaffection with the political system. The slow rise in the proportion of independent leaners over the past 20 years or so (see Figure 1) may well be giving voice to that disaffection.


Table 1: Vote in presidential elections, by party identification scale.

Strong Dem. 2000 Gore Bush Buchanan Nader Other 1996 Clinton Dole Perot (and others) 1992 Clinton Bush Perot (and others) 1980 Carter Reagan Anderson (and others) 97 2 0 0 1

Weak Dem. 89 10 0 0 0

Ind lean Dem 72 20 0 8 0

Pure ind. 43 43 2 6 5

Ind lean Rep. 13 79 0 6 0

Weak Rep. 14 85 0 0 0

Strong Rep. 2 97 0 0 0

98 2 2

85 9 6

78 6 16

39 41 20

20 68 11

20 71 10

5 94 1

94 3 4

68 14 17

70 6 23

41 23 36

11 63 26

14 61 25

3 86 10

86 11 4

60 33 8

45 29 26

22 63 14

12 76 12

5 86 10

5 92 4

Note: Cell values are percentages (rounded). Sources: 1992 (N=1654) and 1996 (N=1115) American National Election Study Cumulative Data File. 2000 (N=1161) 2000 American National Election Study.


Table 2: Average thermometer ranking of political parties, by party identification scale.

Strong Dem. YEAR 2000 1996 1994 1990 1986 1982 1980

Weak Dem.

Ind lean Dem.

Pure ind.

Ind lean Rep.

Weak Rep.

Strong Rep.

59 59 55 60 60 61 63

53 51 50 51 58 55 57

51 46 49 48 53 50 52

48 45 46 46 51 50 51

50 52 48 53 54 52 48

52 52 50 53 56 54 55

56 55 56 61 66 61 61

Source: NES Cumulative Data File to 2000. Note: Figures are column percentages (rounded)


Table 3: Approval of Congress, by party identification scale.

Strong Approve Not Strong Disapprove Disapprove strongly

Strong Weak Ind lean Democrat Democrat Dem 20 15 15 34 49 36 22 15 22 24 21 28

Ind. 15 44 25 16

Ind lean Rep 22 41 18 20

Weak Rep 16 53 11 12

Strong Rep 26 42 15 17

Source: NES 2000 Note: Figures are column percentages (rounded).

Table 4: Preference for divided government, by party identification scale.

Single party Split control

Strong Dem. 36 47

Weak Dem. 21 56

Ind. lean Dem 20 52

Pure ind. 13 53

Ind. lean Rep. 16 62

Weak Rep. 23 54

Strong Rep. 35 48

Source: NES 2000. Note: Figures are column percentages (rounded).


Table 5: Preferences towards party system, by party identification scale.

Continuation of current system No party labels New parties

Strong Dem. 50 21 29

Weak Ind Dem. lean D 36 24 32 35 32 41

Pure Ind lean Ind. Rep. 25 26 41 34 35 40

Weak Rep. 40 27 33

Strong Rep. 61 11 29

Source: NES 2000. Note: Figures are column percentages (rounded). Respondents were asked if they would like to see continuation of current party system, the absence of party labels on the ballot or new parties to challenge Democrats and Republicans.


Table 6: Care who wins presidential election, by party identification.
Strong Dem 84 82 84 78 88 94 91 +7 Weak Dem 57 50 61 55 71 76 79 +22 Ind, Lean Dem 46 42 54 57 71 76 76 +30 Pure Ind 33 32 39 32 58 60 53 +20 Ind Lean Rep 52 51 60 56 74 74 71 +19 Weak Rep 55 59 68 59 77 73 73 +18 Strong Rep 83 89 87 89 90 93 97 +14

1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 change

Source: NES cumulative data file to 2000. Table 7: Interest in public affairs, by party identification.
Strong Dem 28 33 41 36 38 24 40 39 40 33 43 28 44 Weak Dem 17 19 22 19 20 18 24 18 19 14 17 14 26 Ind, Lean Ind Lean Dem Pure Ind Rep 25 19 27 23 23 27 27 14 37 28 23 28 25 19 28 22 16 24 23 14 31 24 19 24 26 22 33 19 12 25 28 24 28 23 14 28 35 20 35 Weak Rep 22 27 19 22 19 20 20 22 20 16 19 11 22

1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002

Strong Rep 43 46 49 34 41 35 42 41 48 42 48 32 44

Source: National Election Study, Cumulative Data File.


Figure 1: Independents and Independent Leaners, 1952-2002
16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 1952 1962 1972 1982 1992 2002 Ind, Lean D Independent Ind, Lean R

Source: National Election Study, Cumulative Data File. Note: Respondents were asked, “generally speaking do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?” Independents are then asked which party they are generally closer to. Values here are based on responses to both questions, with “independents” reflecting those who, when asked the second question, did not report being closer to the Democrats or Republicans.


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