Articles and Analysis


Obama and Independents

Updated with latest Gallup data, see end of post.


A quick look at Obama trends with independents. There have been several articles in the last week about independents deserting the Dems. A good bit of that was spurred by the huge Rep margins among independents in VA (66-33) and NJ (60-30-9) governors races. There are also some indications on policy issues that independents are not supporting Democratic positions.

But support for Obama has not plummeted among independents, and that needs to be clarified before it becomes erroneous conventional wisdom. It especially makes no sense to compare independent support in January with independent support now, and conclude there has been a collapse of support. The pattern this fall, since Sept 1, has been quite stable among independents. Depending on which polls you use, a shade up or a shade down, but overall, not a huge trend either way over the past 3 months.

In the chart above I use Gallup's weekly aggregation of their tracking poll. This gives lots of cases each week, so we have good sample sizes for each of the three partisan groups. It is all within the same organization, so we also have an apples-to-apples comparison. My concern is the trend, not the level of approval. Gallup's daily runs a couple points higher than average on Obama job approval, but that's not relevant to seeing if the trend is changing. (And yes, I know approval dropped under 50 in Gallup's daily over the weekend. Give it a week or so and we'll see what affect this had on each party group but for now I care about the last three months.)

The clear message of the chart is that all three partisan groups have plateaued since the end of August, with little real change since.

What about disgruntled liberal Dems and angry conservative Reps? Let's look at those numbers:


There is no evidence that any group of Dems, especially liberal Dems are unhappy with Obama's performance. Critical is that moderate and even conservative Dems have not moved away since August. Angry conservative Reps are indeed very unhappy with Obama, at almost the same level of disgust as Dems felt for Bush, but they too have reached a plateau at a steady 10% approval. The small number of moderate Reps have also plateaued (I'd discount small moves in the last week of the aggregation.)

So the point is simple: Claims of abandonment of Obama by independents (or lib-Dems or con-Dems) are substantially exaggerated over the past three months. Significant decline from May through August, yes indeed among Inds and Reps, but that trend halted in August.

You can amuse yourself with our interactive pollster chart for independents, which includes all polls. You can remove whatever polls you don't like and see that it makes some difference to what you see recently. (including only live interviewer polls mirrors the Gallup weekly trends pretty well.) Our overall, no cherry picking allowed, estimate sees a small decline recently, that is not visible in the weekly Gallups. But it is not a large decline and until it turns more sharply, I'm not convinced we see a bit move among independents as it concerns Obama support. On other issues, yes Dems should be concerned. But not on this one. Not yet.

Technical note: The Gallup weekly plots are my local regression fits to Gallup's raw weekly numbers. They are not the raw Gallup percentages.

UPDATE: Gallup's weekly update came out this morning. As has been much discussed, Gallup's daily dipped below 50% in the last few days. So this update now reflects that week's polling and could alter the results of the old data.

There are some minor changes (as there logically must be with a dip!). But I don't think the changes we see in the last week change my conclusions. The basic stability of the last three months still show clearly. The last week sees a small dip (a point or two) among independents and among conservative Dems. Those are potentially important for the future, but my primary point remains: let's not exaggerate the changes that have occurred in the last 3 months, or confuse them with the substantial changes in May-August. If there is to be a new decline among any groups, it is a change that has not yet occurred, though this past week's Gallup results may be the first harbinger.

Also remember my lines in the chart are my local fits, not Gallup's raw numbers. The raw numbers show an overall dip of 4 percentage points, and 4 percentage points among independents. My local fits are bit resistant to change and will need to be convinced that change is real by it holding next week as well. (And by the way, I think this dip is not surprising-- I don't buy the arguments for a "floor" for this or any president. If you are close to 50%, odds are you will dip below it at some point. And you might rise too. Depends on events and how you handle them, not a fixed floor.)






I know of no one any better qualified than you to address what I think is a central question about Independents: What is the sociopolitical composition of the group we call Independents in 2009, and how does it compare to the composition of Independents in previous years? The underlying issue, as many observers have suggested, is that damage to the Republican "brand" during the final George W. Bush years likely drove some conservative voters to label themselves as "Independent" rather than "Republican." Thus, Independents as a group may well be inherently more conservative in 2009 than previously (making Democratic support among Independents look relatively weak), but the overall benefit to the GOP presumably would be mitigated by shrinkage in Republican self-identification.


john anzalone:


One other thing worth exploring is that the universe of independents from Nov or 08 or Jan/Feb or 09 are also different than the universe of Independents in the last quarter of 09. With Republican self ID at a new low (20% in Gallup) it means that there is a group of voters who considered themselves Independents a year ago or ten months ago who are now identifying themselves as Independents making the Independent universe more Republican-leaning, more conservative and more unfavorabale to Obama and his policies. I think it is fair for the media to track and report on the change (or no change) in Independents but they should also report that the universe of Independents change shape from time to time. It is not a static group.
john anzalone


john anzalone:

The above commment should have said "

With Republican self ID at a new low (20% in Gallup) it means that there is a group of voters who considered themselves REPUBLICANS a year ago or ten months ago who are now identifying themselves as Independents making the Independent universe more Republican-leaning, more conservative and more unfavorabale to Obama and his policies

John anzalone



The point that a LARGE number of folks who previously identified themselves as GOP now with the extreme fringe "leading", find themselves unable to cling to that in full alligence and hence rather ID themselves as "Independents", indeed the grouping of indepents has grown with many who still can NOT support anything Dem or Obama within that category but worth noting, the truer majority still hang WITH choice of Obama over the GOP counter-offered folks . The DEMs SHOULD worry for what is emerging is the disgust that even with a majority , they, the DEMs are incapable of hanging together to enact the changes that folks were looking for to counter the onslaught of various changes enacted and extracted by the GOP when they held all the reins and imposed whatever they so desired/chose no matter what the opposition put forth. The old line GOPers are STILL great at hanging tuff together while the DEMs are still great at being fractured and hence, seen as inept and rather whimped even when they are on the track of what is in the far greater common greater good for all. The DEMs indeed should be worried--they are not held in great esteemables at this juncture--look at the mess of healthcare reform --all this when they hold a majority in both houses and the WH and etc...still little has been accomplished , ergo, they are perceived as ineffectual and just talkers and more of the same ol' nonsense and folks find them far too ineffectual FOR our greater common good which we did seek in hopes of reaching a point that it was NOT just for the few inside cronies and realizing unlikely to reach all but preferred to at least make such a sincere effort. Just a new set of cronies benefitting , and that is NOT a good thing and not being supported so INDEPENDENT numbers grow but are a true mix.



I teach a small political science class and my students are fascinated by your polls. Probably the most cited source on their papers. I would share this gem that came out of class debate. "Are they asking the right questions? I am a liberal who supports Obama but man am I ticked at him right now." I found the statement apt as those of us who support this President would give answers at odds with our happiness over his policies. How much of the poll is masking the fact that he is still personally popular and the "only game in town" ?


Thanks all!

I'm working on the changing nature of independents, so look for a post on that soon (probably after Thanksgiving).

One thing to note is that if independents are including more former Reps, that would work to lower Obama support among Inds. Over the last three months, that support has been stable. So either in-migration is small (reasonable over just 3 months) or the movement to independent reflects some other shifts in attitude that make the new independents really look more like old independents. I expect we'll have some data on that shortly.

And Paul: Glad your students like the data. And good for them to pick up on the crucial issue of question wording. But I'd add one caution for them: You can also think of a question wording that will get the result YOU (the student) wants. So be a little careful of questions you think should be asked because they would "clearly" show what you believe a priori to be true. This is a tough nut to crack-- informative, meaningful questions not driven by the question writer's agenda. And it works for pollster AND for critic alike.

Best all,




I just read a very funny piece about the current state of the GOP called, "How the Democrat Party Lost Its 'ic'"



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