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Half of Americans in Poverty Are Politically Independent

Half of Americans in Poverty Are Politically Independent

Those in poverty slightly more likely to approve of President Obama

by Kyley McGeeney and Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans who are in poverty are more likely than those who are not in poverty to identify themselves as political independents -- 50% vs. 40%. Those in poverty are much less likely than those who aren't to identify as Republican and are slightly more likely to be Democratic, according to 2011 Gallup Daily tracking data.

Party Identification of American Adults, by Poverty Status -- 2011

Respondents' poverty status is based on Gallup's best estimate of those in poverty according to the most recent U.S. census poverty thresholds, which are from 2011 -- hence, the use of 2011 Gallup data for this analysis. The government's income thresholds for poverty vary significantly according to age of householder, number of related adults in the household aged 18 years or older, and number of related children in the home younger than age 18. Gallup thus made a determination of individual respondents' poverty status based on their annual household income in conjunction with their position on these demographic characteristics. In addition to household income, Gallup's categorization of respondents in poverty uses marital status to account for number of related adults in the household aged 18 or older and includes number of children in the home younger than age 18.

As a point of comparison for those in poverty, 27% of all Americans nationally identified as Republicans in 2011, 30% as Democrats, and 37% as independents. These levels of partisanship were unchanged in the first six months of 2012, with 27% of adults identifying as Republicans, 30% as Democrats, and 36% as independents -- revealing that the party ID of those in poverty is likely similar this year as well.

Adding Republican and Democratic leaners to the respective party groups produces the same result. Those in poverty are twice as likely as those who aren't to be pure independents -- 23% vs. 12%. And those in poverty are much less likely to identify as Republicans or lean Republican and slightly more likely to identify as Democrats or lean Democratic.

The relatively high percentage of those in poverty who are political independents suggests that these individuals are less likely than average to be engaged in the political process.

Majority of Those in Poverty Approved of Obama in 2011

The majority of Americans in poverty approved of President Barack Obama in 2011, compared with 45% approval among those not in poverty. But those in poverty were almost twice as likely as those not in poverty to have no opinion of the job the president was doing, underscoring that Americans who are in poverty are less likely in general to be engaged in politics.

Party Identification of American Adults, by Poverty Status -- 2011

Bottom Line

Almost all adults who are in poverty would fall into the "47%" group that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in a surreptitiously recorded video that went viral this week, said "have become dependent upon government" and "believe they are victims," and that his job "is not to worry about those people." Although Americans in poverty apparently lean more toward the Democratic Party than the GOP and are more positive about Obama than are those who are not in poverty, some are Republicans and many are politically on the sidelines. So it does not appear that this group monolithically supports Obama, as Romney's statement may have implied.

Given that Americans in poverty are highly likely to be politically independent, it is possible that Romney's remarks alienated many of them who have not yet decided whom to vote for. Indeed, a one-night USA Today/Gallup poll found that 42% of low-income Americans said Romney's comments made them less likely to vote for him. Additionally, Romney trails Obama significantly among the lowest-income voters.

Romney's remarks have resonated with some of his supporters and underscore the difference between his and President Obama's positions on the role government should play in the economy -- one of the primary thrusts of the 2012 election. Both candidates offered a response to the U.S. Census Bureau's announcement this week that the poverty rate remained at a historically high 15% in 2011 and the income gap widened between the very wealthy and the rest of the country.

In his video message, Obama said "poverty is a moral issue" and that "even as we work hard to get ahead, we also have the obligation to reach back and help others get ahead too." He also stated that "we cannot balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable." Romney's video focused on the weak economy, noting that "if we are going to help lift our brothers and sisters out of poverty, we must restore our economy and reduce the debt." Romney goes on to discuss his plans for creating more jobs, but confirms he believes budget cuts are necessary.

While both candidates expressed concern and a desire to help those in poverty, how they plan to do so differs. But the candidate whose message resonates more with those in poverty could sway them to vote for him. Still, with many among this group apparently not highly engaged in politics, it isn't clear how high their turnout levels will be.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking Jan. 2-Dec. 31, 2011, with a random sample of 353,492 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

For results based on the total sample of those not in poverty, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

For results based on the total sample of those in poverty, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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