Americans' political party preference during 2021 shifted from Democrat to Republican in the largest move since Gallup began regularly measuring party identification and leaning in 1991.
Democrats went from a nine-percentage-point advantage in the first quarter of 2021 to a rare five-point deficit to the GOP in the fourth quarter, Gallup said Monday.
A total of 49% of Americans considered themselves Democrat in last year's first quarter, but that fell to 42% in the final quarter. Survey respondents identifying as Republican increased from 40% to 47% during the same period.
The survey results were based on aggregated data from all U.S. Gallup telephone surveys in 2021, which included interviews with more than 12,000 randomly sampled adults.
The fourth-quarter numbers belied the overall 2021 average that said slightly more U.S. adults identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic (46%) than identified as Republicans or leaned Republican (43%).
Gallup's latest monthly estimate, from December, showed the two parties about even — 46% Republican/Republican leaning and 44% Democratic/Democratic leaning.
Gallup said that both the nine-point Democrat advantage in the first quarter and the five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter were among the largest it had measured for each party in any quarter since 1991.
Republicans held as much as a five-point advantage in a total of just four quarters during the past 31 years, the last time being in early 1995, when they held a five-point edge after winning control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1950s.
The GOP held a larger advantage only in the first quarter of 1991, after the U.S. victory in the Persian Gulf War led by then-President George H.W. Bush.
Democrats' lead in the first quarter was the largest for the party since the fourth quarter of 2012, when the party also had a nine-point advantage. Democrats held double-digit advantages in specific quarters between 1992 and 1999, and nearly continuously between mid-2006 and early 2009.
Gallup said that the shift in 2021 party preferences likely was tied to President Joe Biden's terrible first year as president.
After enjoying relatively high ratings upon taking office on Jan. 20, Biden's approval ratings have been in free fall since the disastrous troops withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August.
The president's ratings have continued to drop as the U.S. battles rising inflation and another surge of COVID-19 due to the omicron variant.
Among Americans claiming to be core supporters, Democrats (29%) and Republicans (27%) both trailed independents (42%).
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