U.S. Political Party Preferences Shifted Greatly During 2021

[…]The general stability for the full-year average obscures a dramatic shift over the course of 2021, from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter.

Line graph. Quarterly averages of U.S. party identification and leaning in 2021. In the first quarter of 2021, 49% of U.S. adults identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, while 40% identified as Republicans or leaned Republican. In the second quarter, 49% were Democrats or Democratic leaners, and 43% were Republicans and Republican leaners. In the third quarter, 45% were Democrats and Democratic leaners, and were 44% Republicans and Republican leaners. In the fourth quarter, 42% were Democrats and Democratic leaners, and 47% were Republicans and Republican leaners.

These results are based on aggregated data from all U.S. Gallup telephone surveys in 2021, which included interviews with more than 12,000 randomly sampled U.S. adults.


Shifting party preferences in 2021 are likely tied to changes in popularity of the two men who served as president during the year.


With Trump’s approval rating at a low point and Biden relatively popular in the first quarter, 49% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared with 40% who were Republicans or Republican leaners.

In the second quarter, Democratic affiliation stayed high, while Republican affiliation began to recover, increasing to 43%.

The third quarter saw a decline in Democratic identification and leaning, from 49% to 45%, as Biden’s ratings began to falter, while there was no meaningful change in Republican affiliation.

In the fourth quarter, party support flipped as Republicans made gains, from 44% to 47%, and Democratic affiliation fell from 45% to 42%. These fourth-quarter shifts coincided with strong GOP performances in 2021 elections, including a Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election and a near-upset of the Democratic incumbent governor in New Jersey. Biden won both states by double digits in the 2020 election.


The shifts in party affiliation in each quarter of 2021 were apparent in both the percentage identifying with each party and the percentage of independents leaning to each party, but with more changes among leaners than identifiers.


Republican identification increased by three points from the beginning to the end of 2021, while Republican leaners increased by four points.

Changes in Party Identification and Leaning, by Quarter, 2021
In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself — [a Republican, a Democrat] — or an independent? // As of today, do you lean more to the — [Democratic Party or the Republican Party]?
2021-I 2021-II 2021-III 2021-IV
% % % %
Democrat 30 31 28 28
Democratic-leaning independent 19 18 17 14
Non-leaning independent 10 5 8 9
Republican-leaning independent 15 17 16 19
Republican 25 26 28 28
Percentage with no opinion not shown


Independents Are Still the Largest Political Group in the U.S.

Regardless of which party has an advantage in party affiliation, over the past three decades, presidential elections have generally been competitive, and party control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate has changed hands numerous times. This is partly because neither party can claim a very high share of core supporters — those who identify with the party — as the largest proportion of Americans identify initially as political independents.

Overall in 2021, an average of 29% of Americans identified as Democrats, 27% as Republicans and 42% as independents. Roughly equal proportions of independents leaned to the Democratic Party (17%) and to the Republican Party (16%).

The percentage of independent identifiers is up from 39% in 2020, but similar to the 41% measured in 2019. Gallup has often seen a decrease in independents in a presidential election year and an increase in the year after.



Source: U.S. Political Party Preferences Shifted Greatly During 2021

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