Independents are Swinging to the Democrats, History Shows That’s a Big Deal

A series of recently released polls shows that President Trump is losing support among independent voters, a growing segment of the population that was key to his victory in 2016. According to the 2016 US House exit polls, Trump carried Independents by 4 points (46% 42%); other analyses give him a larger advantage. With the Republicans facing difficult contests in marginal suburban districts across the country, a significant deterioration of support among independent voters could be catastrophic to their efforts. In wave elections, the independent vote serves as a useful barometer for the depth of the change.

Looking at Previous Wave Elections

Election Independent Vote Share Democrats Republicans Seat Change
2006 26% 59% 41% D+30
2008 28% 54% 46% D+21
2010 28% 41% 59% R+63
2012 29% 46% 54% D+8
2014 28% 44% 56% R+13
2016 30% 45% 51% D+6
2018 50% 35%
2006 – 2014: CBS/NYT Exit Polls
2016: CNN National Exit Poll
2018: Quinnipiac University poll, Sept 2018

As shown in  the table above, a significant swing in support among independents can be a hallmark of a wave election—this is especially true in midterm elections, where Democratic turnout has generally been affected to a greater degree. With less than two months to go before election day, the most recent polls give Democrats an advantage among Independents, but it is too early to tell.