Over the last 50 years, we have seen a remarkable transformation of the American electorate. The percentage of people identifying as Democrats has been cut nearly in half – from 51 percent in 1961 to 30 percent in 2011. Republicans have seen some gains from this, but the biggest jump has been in the number of people who identify with neither party, which according to the most recent Gallup poll is 46 percent.
It is this group of independents that has more or less determined elections over the last 30 years. Democratic strategists and their friends in the media trumpeted Obama’s 2008 victory as a sign of the “emerging Democratic majority,” but in reality the president’s victory hinged above all on the swing of the independent vote.
This helps explain why Obama’s numbers in the public opinion polls have dropped substantially, even though he still retains strong support from the Democratic base. This is not 1961. Democrats do not make up a majority of the country, far from it. Instead, independents hold the balance of power, and Obama is doing terribly with them. In the latest Gallup poll, his standing is an anemic 35 percent.
What would happen to the president if he were to win only 35 percent of independent voters next year? He would lose. And it would not be close.