From Gallup:

PRINCETON, NJ — Democrats have lost their solid political party affiliation advantage in 18 states since 2008, while Republicans have gained a solid advantage in 6 states. A total of 17 states were either solidly Republican or leaning Republican in their residents’ party affiliation in 2011, up from 10 in 2010 and 5 in 2008. Meanwhile, 19 states including the District of Columbia showed a solid or leaning Democratic orientation, down from 23 in 2010 and 36 in 2008. The remaining 15 states were relatively balanced politically, with neither party having a clear advantage.

The more critical aspect of all this is the “competitive states”

Gallup classifies 15 states as competitive, with the leading party having no more than a five-point advantage. The most competitive states in 2011 were Arkansas, Virginia, and North Carolina; in these, the parties were separated by less than one point.

These competitive states would be among the ones most “in play” in the 2012 presidential election, and include 10 of USA Today and Gallup’s 12 swing states, with Michigan (+6.6 Democratic) and New Mexico (+5.5 Democratic) the other two.

While party affiliation is highly correlated with a state’s voting patterns in statewide elections, it should be noted that these figures are based on the state’s entire adult population, rather than the voting electorate. Differences in turnout by party supporters can give a party a greater or a lesser advantage than the party affiliation data might suggest.

Implications

In the last four years, the political leanings of Americans have increasingly moved toward the Republican Party after shifting decidedly Democratic between 2005 and 2008. In 2008, Democrats had one of the largest advantages in party affiliation they have had in the last 20 years, likely because of the unpopularity of President George W. Bush in the latter years of his presidency. Prior to that, the parties were more evenly balanced. So the movement away from the Democratic Party may just be a return to a more normal state of political affairs from an unusual situation, rather than a rejection of the Democrats per se.

The net result of the movement is that the nation looks to be essentially even in terms of its party loyalties headed into a presidential election year. Clearly, President Obama faces a much less favorable environment as he seeks a second term in office than he did when he was elected president.

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