The percentage of Americans identifying as political independents remained steady this month – with 45 percent of the country declining to identify themselves as belong to either major political party.  That’s down one percent from June but marks the sixteenth straight month this metric has topped 40 percent according to Gallup.

Twenty-three percent of respondents identified as “Republicans” (down one percent) while 29 percent identified as Democrats – up one percent from the previous month.

The GOP hasn’t topped the 25 percent mark since last June, while Democrats have been under 30 percent in back-to-back months.

Of particular interest to those predicting 2014 election results, the percentage of respondents who “lean Republican” fell from 44 to 40 percent – while the percentage of those who “lean Democratic” dropped from 44 to 42 percent.  Of course “Republican leaners” are more often than not true independents – while Democratic leaners tend to be more loyal to their party.

Got all that?  Good … because the disposition of these “leaners” is a statistic worth following the closer we get to election day.

Also worth pondering?

What it means to be an “independent.”

“The key question among this growing surge in self-identified independent voters is whether their ideological leanings mirror or contrast with their partisan leanings,” a post from the non-partisan Market Research Foundation noted.

In other words, are these independents more likely to describe themselves as “liberal” or “conservative?”  And on what issues do they apply these labels?  And most importantly – how likely are they to vote (and what issue will motivate them to turn out)?

South Carolina’s most famous independent candidate – Thomas Ravenel – celebrated the data.

“People are tired of the false choice they have been given between the warfare state and the welfare state,” Ravenel wrote on his website. “They’re looking for something new – a candidate who is going to stand up to protect their liberties and their tax dollars.”

It’s hard to argue with that assessment …

Five years ago, “Republicans” were drawing the support of 30 percent of the electorate while Democrats were backed by 36 percent.  Add it up and that’s two-thirds of the American people.  Today that total is down to 52 percent.