The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For the first time, there are fewer registered Republicans than independents

Artist Howard Connelly was moved by politics to create an allegorical sculpture he calls “Super PACyderm.” It's displayed in the front yard of his Silver Spring, Md., home. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

For the first time in history, there are more registered independents in the United States than there are registered Republicans.

It may not be for the reason you think, though.

New data from Ballot Access News, which tracks registrations in the 31 states that require voters to register by party, shows that independents account for 29.09 percent of voters in them, compared with 28.87 percent for Republicans. As recently as 2004, Republicans outpaced independents by nearly 10 percentage points.

There are still way more registered Democrats; 39.66 percent of voters are registered with that party.

This marks the first time since party registration began in the early 1900s that the number of registered independents in the United States has surpassed members of either major political party, according to Ballot Access News.

Here’s the data going back to 2004:

But before anybody chalks this up as having to do with the current occupant of the White House, it’s worth parsing the trends.

While independents have surpassed Republicans, there actually hasn’t been a huge drop in GOP party registration since President Trump took office. Since October 2016, GOP registration has dropped by half a percentage point. The number of registered Democrats declined by nearly a full point over the same span. Independents have benefited from both drops.

And they have been doing so for years. Democrats are more than three points off their peak this century, which was in 2008, when Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was about to become president. At the time, 43.62 percent of voters were registered Democrats.

Republicans are also more than three points off where they were four years earlier, in 2004, when 32.79 percent of voters were Republican and George W. Bush won reelection.

Since 2008, the trendline for each party has been relatively steady. But while Democratic registrations fell more between 2016 and 2018 (0.78 percent) than Republican ones (0.15 percent), Republicans have fallen more since 2018. Since Democrats won back the House in that midterm contest, their registration numbers have declined by just 0.16 percent, compared with 0.37 percent for Republicans.

These numbers, it bears emphasizing, aren’t the full picture and differ from surveys of party registration. While national pollsters such as Gallup ask samples of Americans to self-identify which party they align with, these numbers represent actual registrations, and they account for only the 31 states that have party registration. When you ask people in all 50 states to self-identify, independents do significantly better, and Democrats do significantly worse; the most recent Gallup data shows that 42 percent of people identify as independents, and more identify as Republican than Democrat, 30 percent to 27 percent.

The Fix’s Amber Phillips previews the South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday and what to watch for as the 2020 Democratic presidential primary continues. (Video: The Washington Post)

Indeed, part of the reason there are still many more registered Democrats is that some Southern and Appalachian states have more registered Democrats than Republicans, even though those states have been voting reliably Republican at nearly every level of government for years and years. Louisiana, for example, has more than 300,000 more registered Democrats (1,216,000) than registered Republicans (905,000). Blue states are also more likely to have party registration than red states.

On the whole, surveys of all 50 states and the new party registration data from Ballot Access News indicate that Trump’s presidency hasn’t shifted the future of party registration in the United States in any major way. That said, this is a milestone worth marking.