In 2011, a record-high 40 percent of Americans distanced themselves from Democrats and Republicans, instead identifying themselves as independents, according to a Gallup survey released Monday. Democratic registration held steady at 31 percent last year, while GOP identification dropped from 29 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2011. People often drift independent ahead of a presidential election, Gallup said, "but the sluggish economy, record levels of distrust in government, and unfavorable views of both parties" made the exodus even more pronounced this time. What should we make of these numbers?

Tea Partiers are turning off Republicans: This is a big blow to rabid partisans who think you're "stupid" if you aren't "liberal or conservative enough," says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. But it's also an indictment of the Right. There are far more independents and Democrats than there are Republicans, showing that many Americans reject "the current dominance of the Republican Party by the Tea Party movement and the talk radio political culture."
"Gallup: Number of Americans identifying selves as independents hits record high of 40 percent"

Actually, Democrats are bleeding support thanks to Obama: If you look closely at the numbers, "the real news is that independents are leaning Republican," says John Hood at National Review. "When both partisans and party-leaning independents are included in the analysis," Democrats and Republicans each wind up with a base of 45 percent. The 12-point advantage Democrats enjoyed in 2008 has vanished since President Obama took office. Gallup's findings are "good news for the GOP" as it tries to deny Obama a second term.
"Gallup's good news for the GOP"

True independents are scarce — and crucial: There's a "tendency to exaggerate" the power of independents, Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz tells ABC News. A lot of people who call themselves independents are just saying they're not interested in politics, meaning they're the folks who don't vote. What really matters is "truly uncommitted" swing voters. They make up less than 10 percent of the electorate, but they're the ones who turn elections. 
"Independent voters on the rise but do they matter?"