Who Are Leaners? How True Independents Differ from the Weakest Partisans and Why It Matters

Samara Klar, Yanna Krupnikov, John Barry Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Independents who lean toward a party constitute a plurality of Americans. Despite their reluctance to identify as partisans, scholars find that "leaners"look much like partisans with respect to their voting behavior, civic engagement, and policy preferences. Yet, existing literature does not consider the possibility that different factors lead Democrats and Republicans to opt for an independent label. We consider heterogeneity in what leads people to report that they are "leaners"and we identify important partisan differences. By introducing a novel survey measure administered on a large adult sample, we identify both the motivation for, and consequence of, identifying as a leaner. Our results reveal that modern-day Republican leaners are largely motivated by a dissatisfaction with their own party. They are ideologically more moderate and are subsequently less willing to support their party's candidate. Democratic leaners, on the other hand, appear satisfied with their party's ideology and candidates, but nevertheless value an independent label. Our work suggests that partisan identification is both expressive and politically contextual. Our study provides an important step in identifying distinct motivations and electoral consequences within this large and growing segment of Americans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-167
Number of pages13
JournalForum (Germany)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • independent voters
  • independents
  • leaners
  • partisanship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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