The new Pew poll, for example, found that 32 percent of respondents identified with Democrats, 10 points more than the 22 percent who called themselves Republicans; 41 percent initially called themselves independents. When the independents were pushed and asked which side they leaned toward, Democrats’ share rose to 51 percent. Republicans moved up to 37 percent, opening up a 14-point gap between the two parties. That is substantially wider than the 9.6 percentage point gap in leaned party identification that Pew Research found from all its polling for 2012.
Of course, one poll isn’t a trend. Heck, two or three don’t really make a trend, but given today’s pulsating political dynamics, this measurement is worth watching. The “lean” metric allows us to see the bottom-line impact on the public’s perception of the parties, a more significant finding than polling results that can be influenced by a question’s wording—when, for example, various pollsters ask which party should be “blamed” or held “more responsible” for layoffs or government shutdowns. The media tend to give such charged questions a great deal of prominence, drawing grand conclusions that may or may not be backed up by more durable data.