The number of people that define themselves as unaffiliated to a party or as “politically independent” is growing in the United States, raising the question of whether the highly polarizing two-party system is still working. According to a series of Gallup surveys taken throughout 2022, on average, 42 percent of respondents said they would define themselves as politically independent this year, versus 27 percent as Republicans and 28 percent as Democrats.
As our chart shows, partisanship often peaks in presidential election years, as shown in both 2016 and 2020. The year following an election characteristically sees a slight shift towards more people defining themselves as independent.
When Gallup conducts their surveys, they initially ask via telephone whether U.S. adults are a Republican, a Democrat or independent. The next question is whether as an independent, they are politically Republican or Democrat leaning. While some analysts argue that independents are really much the same as Republicans or Democrats, the decision to disassociate from the two parties perhaps shouldn't be so easily swept to one side, as Rhona Colvin of the Washington Post writes: “if they choose to vote, numbers suggest nonpartisan voters could swing close races.”