WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amid a tight race for a U.S. Senate seat from Alaska, a growing proportion of Alaskans, now 59%, identify as political independents. At the same time, there are recent lows in the percentage of Alaskans identifying as Republicans (25%) and the percentage identifying as Democrats (13%). These shifts create a more challenging political landscape for the campaigns of both incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and his Republican challenger, former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan.
The race between Begich and Sullivan has been highly watched as national Republicans and Democrats hone in on competitive elections. The campaign is similar to those in North Carolina and Iowa that could decide the majority in the U.S. Senate. Alaska has traditionally been among the states with the highest percentages of residents who identify as independents, and the current Alaskan independent percentage far exceeds the national average of 40%.
Historically, however, the state has leaned right. Despite Alaskans’ initial inclination to identify as politically independent, when examined closer, more Alaska independents say they “lean” to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party. That leaves a situation in which 42% of Alaskan adults identify as Republican or lean Republican, compared with 34% who identify as Democrats or lean Democratic. At the same time, the current Republican advantage is less than Gallup has measured in recent years. Still, the comparable national percentages are 43% who identify with or lean Democrat, and 39% who identify with or lean Republican. This underscores Alaska’s generally more Republican orientation.
Party identification and several other political and economic measures for Alaska are included in Gallup’s new State Scorecard assessments, which present data for 14 key measures for each of the 50 states. Within each assessment, the state’s performance on the measure is compared with the national average for the same time period.
Historically, the state has leaned to the right, with Republicans exerting firm control over both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. Prior to Begich’s historic victory in 2008, former Republican Sen. Ted Stevens held his seat for four decades before losing to Begich amidst an extensive federal corruption investigation. Former Sen. Frank Murkowski and his daughter, incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski — both Republicans – have occupied the other seat since the early 1980s. The state’s at-large congressman, Republican Don Young, has owned Alaska’s single House seat since 1973.
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