We see polls on most issues where Democrats positions are more popular across the board. Yet the nation is more evenly divided in with Democrats only having a slight but surprisingly durable edge in presidential popular votes since 2008.

In Kansas on August 3, voters went to the polls to decide who will be on the ballot in November for primaries and whether to allow the legislature to pass abortion restrictions. The no option -- the pro choice option won with almost 60% of the vote, which was surprising given polls and statistical data on earlier public opinion showed a close race. But Republicans also won the primary vote handily.

Why don't more voters say "I agree with Democrats more so I'll vote for them and support them or maybe join myself"? What drives say pro-choice Republicans to be Republicans? Has this question been researched? In other words why do some voters identify with the Republican Party while supporting some of the policies of the Democrats?

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    This topic is similar to the widespread claim that conservatives vote against their personal interests in general.
    – benjimin
    Sep 22, 2022 at 20:11
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    This will of course depend on the poll, but wording also matters. People may agree with the statement, “every American should have access to health care”, but may not agree with the specifics of how that health care is to be paid for, who will be eligible for taxpayer funded care, what would be covered, etc. Sep 23, 2022 at 2:04
  • I'm not sure how to elaborate this into a full answer, especially as it's purely anecdotal, but I personally know quite a few right-wing Americans who support the Democrats' policies in principle, but do not support the Democratic Party itself, or its candidates. That's not to say they vote Republican instead, mind you.
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 23, 2022 at 16:07
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    @ChrisLoonam Spinning the discourse matters greatly. Many Americans are against "Obama Care" as a political plank but are often in favor of most of the individual rules that the ACA enabled.
    – doneal24
    Sep 23, 2022 at 16:51

5 Answers 5


Polls can be misleading, as the choice of phrasing matters (1, 2). In particular, actual laws require lots of specifics, whereas polling questions are usually generic and can be loaded with partisan leans by unscrupulous or poorly trained pollsters.

"I think we should tax the rich more" is a pretty popular sentiment right now. "I think we should tax the rich at 91%" is likely going to be a significantly less popular statement. And "Before Nixon, the highest marginal tax rate was 91%. I think we should return to that rate" may have yet another approval rating. It may be higher because the question provides context: that this has happened before. That Nixon is invoked may also impact the results—Republicans may be inclined to say "disagree" because a Republican president lowered it, Democrats may be inclined to "agree" for the same reason, et al.—, so rephrasing to use a date, instead, may again alter the poll results. And the invocation of Nixon here is actually a red herring, the sort of thing that could be used by bad or unscrupulous pollsters, as Eisenhower had a 90%+ tax rate but Kennedy lowered it to 70%, and the largest of the modern tax reductions was done in the 80's under Reagan.

Similarly, "I think climate change is a problem and I think we should do something about it" is going to give you much different results than questions asking about specific initiatives. Do we use carbon credits? Taxes? Subsidies? Which technologies do we prioritize in research? How do we address areas heavily dependent on fossil fuel companies for jobs etc.? Do we need to make major reductions quickly, or small reductions incrementally? The people are much more heavily divided and uninformed at this level, but these are the questions any actual legislation must address. So you can be in favor of doing something about climate change, while not wanting to do it in any of the ways Democrats suggest, etc.

NIMBY (not in my backyard) effects can also be prominent in how people poll versus how they vote. For example, Dave Chapelle has been an advocate for increasing housing density as a means to abate homelessness and rent crises. But as soon as a high density residential area was proposed where he lived, he threw a hissy fit to get it blocked. A lot of people want something done about a problem, but only if they aren't inconvenienced by the solution. Hence, again, one may be in favor of climate change action, but will balk at a proposal that would significantly increase the costs of beef, because they happen to eat a lot of it. Or they may simply balk at it because the solution necessarily needs money, and they don't want to pay higher taxes.


A given person's opinions on issues can run the full gamut between Left and Right but when it comes time to vote that colorful spectrum gets condensed to a single binary choice (in part because the FPTP voting system in the US strongly encourages a two-party system, but that's a topic for another time). This condensing is bound to be a lossy process.

Then there's the problem that many people are single-issue voters or give more weight to some issues over others. For instance many pro-life supporters will always vote for the candidate they consider more strongly pro-life, regardless of how they feel about that candidate's position on other issues.

But lots of other people are not one-dimensional. Consider Carl. Carl as a gay man would be a natural fit for the Democrats. But Carl is a small business owner and very pro-free market and anti-regulation, positions more favored by the Republicans. Who should Carl vote for? Since he has to choose between the two, he now has to decide which issue (gay rights or free markets) is more important to him. But whichever way he goes that won't show up on a poll just asking about positions on issues. And he may vote one over the other in the primary, and then change the voting basis in the general election, with no actual contradiction. Or he may give a different weight to the two issues when voting at the state level vs the nation level. Etc. etc.

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    "Carl as a gay man would be a natural fit for the Democrats" I think this is the logical fallacy here that produces these type of questions. What does one's biology have to do with their political preferences? Are you gong to say that black men are a natural fit for democrats? After all, women slightly outnumber men (due to higher male mortality) so why don't a "women's party" win all elections?
    – uberhaxed
    Sep 23, 2022 at 19:16
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    @uberhaxed yeah, "political preferences are more complicated than they seem on the surface" was kind of the point of my answer, I may need to tweak it to make that more clear. That being said, Democrats are historically less likely to view homosexuality as "sinful" and spend more time and energy discussing how to further LGBTQ+ issues. Sep 23, 2022 at 19:25
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    @uberhaxed Historical? I mean, you're not wrong, but I'm describing the political party views today, right now, in America, currently. I'm not sure where the disconnect is here, but clearly there is one. Sep 24, 2022 at 12:26
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    @uberhaxed Well, sure, idiotically interpret "historically" as meaning something like "over the last 2000 years" and you can undercut damn near anything. Apply appropriate context and apply it over the last few decades or so like a reasonable person and things work out just fine. Sep 25, 2022 at 16:51
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    @uberhaxed Various laws can affect people in different ways. Someone in a wheelchair has a natural reason to object to free-market candidates who want to get rid of ADA requirements. Someone gay has a natural reason to object to candidates calling for the execution of gay people, which is actively currently real in some parts of the world. Men and women have different political leanings; men split 26-31 Democrat Republican, and women 39-28, but the two groups aren't distinct enough to separate into two parties.
    – prosfilaes
    Sep 26, 2022 at 21:15

Because, in the U.S., neither Democrats nor Republicans have a plurality of support among voters. Either party being more popular than the other presupposes those are the only options. But the largest "political party" by voter registration is independents, aka, unaffiliated voters. (There is an actual Independent Party, but it's not worth mentioning and has very terrible numbers. To distinguish, if I have to refer to them again, I'll use "Independent Party" and will endeavor to keep "independent voters" lower case). Independent voters number slightly above one-third of all registered U.S. voters, while Democrats tend to be slightly less than one-third. (Who is more popular is a moot question as they're so close it's likely fractions of a percent.)

Independent voters, by dint of the fact that they have no party, are a tough nut to crack in statistics and polling because they aren't an organized party (not in the sense of the classic joke "I do not belong to an organized political party! I'm a Democrat!) so there are no shared plank issues among them... or united ideas. Some are Independent because Neither party is a good fit for their interests... some are independent because they like some issues supported by one party but think another party is better on other issues. Some are more likely to vote for one party than they are for another, but don't want to be stigmatized for affiliating with that party (i.e., a Republican supporter in a community with a large Democratic base may loyally vote Republican but say he is an independent to avoid hostilities when talk of politics comes up). Some think both parties are really the same party that gets nothing done. Others will vote for the best person for the job, party be damned. (I've voted in four elections and by my third election, I had yet to vote for any party's candidate twice.)

That said, polling wise, ignoring the third party and what they tend to want from elected officials is a good way to get yourself a lost election (when the races aren't lopsided for one party over the other). Especially on the presidential level. Having been a registered independent in a swing state, I can tell you that the candidates for president took efforts to make you feel like your vote mattered. (I once told the first live human person for a particular party that if he did not remove me from their bot-call list, I would vote for the other candidate because "Four More Years of Bush is Four More Years of the 'Do Not Call' registry. And before you mention that "bot-calling" is still legal for politicians... oh yeah... I knew that... but every vote counts, and undecided votes count more than the decided ones. To paraphrase Azula, the party affiliated have already decided your fate, I'm still mulling it over.").

As of recent polling, it seems independents tend to take a soft Republican position, but that doesn't mean that they won't vote for something favored by Democrats. And it's also important to note that for presidents, it's not a popularity contest... it's 50 popularity contests.


Because voters tend to vote along party lines and in the case of Kansas Republican voters outnumber Democrat voters by a large number. There are other ways that Republican's use to win the vote when they have lower turn out such as gerrymandering but that is not the case in Kansas.


Republican voters 858,429 Democrat voters 503,746

While you might get voters to agree on some big ticket items they typically vote along the lines with the party that they identify with.

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    I feel this answer just reformats the question. Why do voters identify with the Republican party while supporting the policies of the Democrats?
    – Jontia
    Sep 22, 2022 at 20:48
  • @Jontia The point is that voters tend to vote along the party lines that they are registered to even if at times they will vote for a single issue. Because you have more registered as Republican's you are going to see more Republican's win. Just because some ideas of a party are popular doesn't mean that all of them are and people will switch parties because of that.
    – Joe W
    Sep 22, 2022 at 21:07

Apologies in advance for a cynical/realistic reply...

Since the beginning of mass media back in the 1920/30s, and accelerating with each new technological improvement in media dissemination, the power of factions (in Madison's sense; see Federalist Papers #10) has grown exponentially. The problem of factions is that they manipulate public emotions to generate power for their faction, but only use such generated power for purposes unrelated to the public interest. It's an emotional shell-game that keeps the public's eye fixated on some salacious, vicious, or noxious thing that will convince them that the faction is Good (regardless of policies, practices, or behaviors) while the opponents are Bad (same caveat). That over-simplistic and heavily-enforced moral dichotomy overpowers self-interest and common sense.

Republicans (as the minority party for a good long time now) have factionalized strongly to maximize their political power. The upshot is that Democrats could offer conservative voters almost everything they desire — and in fact, have done so in recent years — and most conservative voters will still flock to the GOP because they have been convinced that the GOP is Good and the Democrats are Bad. It isn't a matter of what (if anything) either side does. Instead, it is a soteriological dilemma; a matter of the salvation of the soul.

I mean, there are literally deep-south preachers who sermonize that anyone who votes Democratic is a hell-bound servant of the devil. Ridiculous as it may sound to sober-minded intellectuals, that is a threat to be reckoned with for many people.

People are complex, and will break with the party-line on many specific issues: that's as true of Democrats as Republicans. But breaking with the party is far more difficult, particularly for Republicans, because the GOP and conservative pundits have put a lot of effort into painting Democrats as intrinsically evil. They've done their best to make party-line voting an existential threat.

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    I mean, there are literally mass media corporations and celebrities who sermonize that anyone who votes Conservative, let alone Republican or Trump is a hell-bound servant of the devil. Ridiculous as it may sound to sober-minded intellectuals, that is a threat to be reckoned with for many people. Small local bubbles is one thing, country-wide mega corps, celebs and the rich, powerful, who control of most of the media, news and narrative is another beat entirely. Sep 30, 2022 at 0:28

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