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Caught in the middle: Record number of Americans scorn both Dems and the GOP

Caught in the middle: Record number of Americans scorn both Dems and the GOP
The number of American voters unhappy with both the Democratic and Republican parties has reached a 75-year record high, according to a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Conducted over a quarter of a century, the mammoth survey shows that voters who identify themselves as Independents outpace support for the traditional parties at 38%, compared to the 32% of respondents who support the Democrats and 24% who roll with the Republicans.

“Looking at data from Gallup going back to 1939, it is safe to say that there are more political independents in 2012 than at any point in the last 75 years,” the report reads.

The poll shows that the dynamic growth of Independent voters coincides with a surge in polarizing ideology between Republicans and Democrats during the Bush and Obama presidencies.

“Americans’ values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Party has now become the single largest fissure in American society, with the values gap between Republicans and Democrats greater than gender, age, race or class divides. The parties also have become smaller and more ideologically homogeneous over this period. Republicans are dominated by conservatives, while a smaller but growing number of Democrats are liberals,” the report reads.

The survey echoes rising sentiment that as Democratic and Republican ideologies have become significantly more extreme, a growing number of Americans find themselves left in the middle, underrepresented, tired of constant political fighting, and unable to commit fully to either party. Calls for an independent third party candidate have rung loud and clear across the American electorate ever since Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2000.

Independent voters factor heavily in election years. According to the Pew research, Independent or “swing” voters currently make up 25% of the registered electorate, and are finding themselves increasingly cross-pressured between Obama and Romney, siding with Obama on issues such as labor unions, but picking Romney on issues such as the social safety net and immigration. 

Independent voters have played a significant role in every US presidential election since 2000. Obama carried 52% of Independent voters in 2008, which contributed heavily to his victories in the swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. George W. Bush took Florida and Ohio in 2000 and 2004 respectively. Bush carried the majority of the Independent vote in 2004, according to Pew.

The Florida race was so close in 2000 that many Democrats complained that Ralph Nader had drawn Independent voters away from Democratic nominee Al Gore, giving Bush the paper-thin majority he needed to secure victory in the state, and consequently the presidential election.

The Trends in American Values: 1987-2012 poll by the Pew Research Center asked Americans to respond to a series of questions over a 25-year period between 1987 and 2012. The latest answers were gathered from 3,008 adults nationwide on April 4-15, 2012.