Beyond Partisan Identification

WINNING 2014 CAMPAIGNS WILL TARGET TURNOUT ALONG IDEOLOGICAL, NOT PARTISAN LINES

Earlier this year Market Research Foundation (MRF) studied partisan identification in South Carolina – one of the key early-voting states in the quadrennial presidential primary elections.  According to our study the Palmetto State – while reliably Republican in terms of the politicians it elects – is home to a large and independent-minded segment of the electorate that does not particularly relate to either of the two major parties.

This month a new study by Norman Analytics – prepared for MRF – discusses party identification at the national level as the 2014 election heads into its homestretch.  It found a similar independent streak – one that could play a pivotal role come November 4.

“Conventional wisdom tells us that Americans are more politically divided than they have ever been,” the study’s authors note. “In reality, most Americans fall somewhere between the two highly publicized extremes and are increasingly abandoning traditional political party labels even if they share an ideology with Republicans or Democrats.”

The Norman Analytics-MRF study – which surveyed 1,508 Americans between September 9-17 – explored participants’ self-identification by partisan affiliation and ideology.  It further explored specific issues matrices – economic, health care/ education and moral –  to determine how each matrix influenced voting patterns.

In addition to discovering a broad swath of pure partisan independents – 45 percent (a number consistent with Gallup partisan ID polling) – the survey identified a decided rightward lean on economic policy.  Republicans and Independents obviously contributed mightily to this lean, but the days of Democrats touting their “big government” allegiance appear to be drawing to an end.

“Self-Identified Democrats are more likely to support liberal economic policies, but even in this group very few unilaterally support specific liberal economic policies,” the study found.

In fact 31 percent of Democrats broke with their party on the issue of government spending – easily the leading “defection” issue (followed by immigration at 21 percent).  On the flip side, thirty-three percent of Republicans were likely to break from their party’s ranks on the issue of gay marriage.

Needless to say these fractures within the traditional party monoliths – along with the swelling ranks of pure independents – provide a fertile landscape for candidates of both parties.  Obviously the conservative economic lean is a potential boon for GOP candidates, but this data makes clear it will only provide an advantage to the extent Republican campaigns are able to target turnout strategies along ideological lines.

The American public is economically conservative in a time when economic issues reign supreme giving the Republican Party an edge in electoral politics,” the authors noted.  “Although at first glance it appears there is a higher incidence of Democrats in the population, self-identified members of the Democratic Party are more likely to be unenthusiastic or partial defectors from the party platform. After accounting for underlying policy preferences Republicans and Democrats start out with roughly equal size bases and Republicans may actually have a slight advantage.” 

But does this base advantage matter for the GOP if its turnout effort is missing the mark?

“Republican campaigns that engage in aggressive turnout efforts while simultaneously highlighting liberal economic stances of their opponents are very likely to be successful,” the authors conclude, adding that successful campaigns will get voters to “support individual candidates rather than the Republican Party or its entire platform.”

In other words touting the Republican brand may not always be the best way for Republicans to gain ground in the current electoral environment.

To read the study in its entirety, click on the link below …

ANALYSIS OF PARTY SELF-IDENTIFICATION IN AMERICA (.pdf)