Visualizing Historical Political Party Identification in the Era of Trump

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Policy & Politics

As many have noted, President Trump has shown a remarkable ability to maintain a strong base of support — about 40% of the voters — despite the myriad controversies swirling around him.

Some clues about that base can be seen in the results of a fascinating survey taken recently by Pew Research Center to gauge Americans’ reaction to the Mueller investigation.

Deep in the white paper released by Pew are historical numbers listing the percentages of Americans who either support one of the two major parties or consider themselves independents, many of whom admit leaning left or right . These data probably aren’t news to people who follow politics more closely than I do, but the broad trends they illustrate were interesting to me — especially when analyzed visually.

First, the data show how support for these groups has changed over time. The reds in the normalized stacked bar chart below represent people who identify with Republicans, or lean towards them, and people who identify with Democrats, or lean toward them. The middle represents a smaller group that supports some other party or doesn’t have strong opinions. I’m calling them “rest”. These are the folks, I suppose, who help decide elections — if they vote.

Neither of the two major parties have maintained a majority of support, but the Democrats were there briefly during the election of Barack Omama and have come closer than the Republicans during the Trump era. You can see bursts of support for the GOP after former President Bill Clinton’s election, when the Republicans took back the U.S. House of Representatives, and in the years following the September 11 terror attacks.

This line chart plots the same groups from a different perspective, perhaps making it easier to see the changes to core party support and the broader strength with some independents leaning their way. You can see the positive swings for Democrats during the early days of the Clinton and Obama eras, and also how GOP support fell during the George W. Bush presidency.

Identification with the presidential party during Clinton, Bush and Obama either dropped or remained flat after they took office. Under Trump, however, the people who identify as Republican (and their learners) have rallied to their embattled president.

This small illustration helps explain the president’s resilient approval numbers. I’ll leave it to others to explain why those supporters remain.

You can download the data from Pew Research Center here.

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