Republicans Overtook Democrats In 2021 As Share Of Americans Identifying With GOP Shot Up, Poll Finds



Which political parties Americans identify with shifted wildly over the course of 2021, Gallup polling throughout the year found, as adults became more likely to identify with Republicans than Democrats as the year went on and President Joe Biden’s approval rating fell—a trend that could prove important as the 2022 midterm elections approach.

Key Facts

In the first quarter of 2021, 49% of U.S. adults identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic versus 40% who sided with Republicans, according to Gallup, which polled 12,416 respondents over the course of the year.

By the fourth quarter of 2021, 47% of respondents identified as Republicans while only 42% said they were Democrats.

Democrats’ advantage over Republicans at the beginning of the year was the biggest they’ve held since the end of 2012, when former President Barack Obama won reelection, according to Gallup, while Republicans’ fourth-quarter lead was their largest lead since 1995.

The biggest shift was among Independents: the share of Democratic-leaning Independents went from 19% to 14% over the course of 2021, while those identifying as Republican-leaning Independents went up from 15% to 19%.

More Americans still identified as Democrats or said they lean Democratic than as Republicans on average in 2021—with 46% versus 43%—though that’s slightly closer than in 2020, when 48% were Democrats and 43% were Republicans.

Most Americans identified as Independents when that was included as an option, however: 42% considered themselves an Independent on average in 2021, versus 29% Democrat and 27% Republican.

Surprising Fact

While more Gallup respondents leaned Democratic than Republican on average in 2021, a larger share of respondents also categorized their views as “conservative” rather than “liberal.” A 37% plurality of Americans said they held “moderate” views in 2021, but 36% said they’re either conservative or “very conservative,” while 24% were liberal or “very liberal.” Those numbers are similar to 2020, when Democrats also had an advantage in party affiliation.

What To Watch For

How Americans’ party affiliations will change in 2022. Gallup notes that surveys conducted in December found Americans ended the year a bit more balanced, with 46% Republican or Republican-leaning versus 44% Democratic.

Key Background

Americans have traditionally leaned more Democratic than Republican since Gallup started surveying party leaning in 1991, the pollster notes, with the exception of 1991, when Republicans held a significant advantage. The two parties also registered “roughly equal levels of support” in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2010 and 2011, Gallup reports. Americans’ dramatic shift in their party affiliation over 2021 may have been linked to presidential approval rating, the pollster speculated. GOP President Donald Trump left office in January with a record low approval rating of 34%, according to Gallup, while incoming President Joe Biden had a 57% approval rating as of January 2021. Biden’s approval rating has plunged over the course of the year, however, as issues like the president’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan and the administration’s Covid-19 response resulted in an approximately 43% approval rating as 2021 came to an end, per Gallup. The increasing share of Republicans was also reflected in the 2021 elections, which saw Republicans winning major races like Virginia’s gubernatorial race and a closer-than-expected Democratic win for governor in New Jersey.

What We Don’t Know

How Americans’ partisan leanings will affect the 2022 midterms, which will determine which party controls Congress along with gubernatorial races across the country. Republicans so far hold a narrow advantage on the generic congressional ballot, which broadly asks people whether they’d support the GOP or Democratic candidate. As of January 16, 42.4% of respondents said they’d back Republicans versus 41.8% supporting Democrats, according to an aggregate of polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight.

Further Reading

U.S. Political Party Preferences Shifted Greatly During 2021 (Gallup)

U.S. Political Ideology Steady; Conservatives, Moderates Tie (Gallup)

Many Americans ‘Frustrated’ With Biden After First Year—Approval Numbers Still Better Than Trump’s (Forbes)