Americans have lost confidence in our dysfunctional government. Have they also lost faith in our democratic political system or in democracy?
A 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll looks at how Americans feel about our institutions and our democracy by gender, age, race, education, geography and political party. The key findings might surprise you:
Only 40% of Americans are currently satisfied with our democracy (36% are not satisfied)
- Gender, age, race, education and geography show little correlation with satisfaction (men are just slightly more satisfied than women, Asians are a little more satisfied than other race groups and high school graduates are more satisfied than post graduates)
- Satisfaction is most strongly correlated with party affiliation – 44% of Democrats, 39% of Independents, 76% of Republicans are satisfied (those in the ruling party are satisfied)
- Large majorities of both parties think the opposing party rarely or never has the country’s best interest at heart and that the other party is a somewhat or serious threat to the country
Confidence in institutions is also strongly correlated with party affiliation
- The military, Google and Amazon universally inspire a great deal of confidence
- Political parties, Congress and Facebook universally lack our confidence
- Democrats have the lowest confidence in the Executive branch, while Republicans rank the Press lowest
- Democrats have high confidence in the FBI and colleges and universities, ranking both in the top 5, while Republicans rank Local Police and Religion in the top 5
The young are more open to alternatives to democracy and more pessimistic about who benefits from it, but no less satisfied with democracy than older Americans
- 76%+ of Americans 54+ prefer democracy vs. only 56% of those under 41
- 46% + of those under 41 believe democracy serves the elite vs. about 30% of those 54+
- ¾ of those 41+ believe government doesn’t care what they think vs. 2/3 of those under 41
- 21% of those 18-29 never trust Washington to do what’s right vs. 33% of those 54-63
Another 2018 study by the Democracy Project looked at Americans’ attitudes about democratic principles and institutions:
- 84% of Americans feel it’s important to live in a democracy
- 80% are concerned about the condition of our democracy – 55% believe it’s weak, 68% believe it’s getting weaker (Democrats fear authoritarianism, Republicans do not)
- 77% agree government enacts laws that mostly reflect what powerful special interests and their lobbyists want (81% of Democrats, 70% of Republicans)
- 71% favor the U.S. taking steps to support democracy and human rights abroad
- 70% believe partisanship and polarization has gotten worse
- 60% indicated increased civic and political engagement
Finally, a 2018 Pew Research study of the U.S political system and American democracy finds Americans in broad agreement on democracy ideals that we’re falling short of realizing:
- While 58% believe U.S. democracy is working well, 61% believe significant design and structure changes are needed
- 76% say it would be “too risky” to give presidents more power to solve problems
- Only 45% like politicians who compromise when they disagree (across both parties)
- 75% say government should heed the will of the majority even if constituents differ (although fewer support their own party doing so)
- 35% have a favorable opinion of federal government (2/3 are favorable of local government)
- 41% say presidential candidate quality is good (73% feel local candidate quality is good)
Americans have never loved politicians or Washington. But as long as the system worked for them Americans trusted that politicians were ultimately on their side. Not anymore. In 1940, 90% of 30-year-old Americans were earning more than their parents did at age 30. Among Americans born in the 1980’s, only 50% are earning more than their parents did at a similar age. The American dream is fading.
Additionally, the immediacy of the digital world makes U.S. government seem sluggish, outmoded and shockingly unresponsive. Average voters feel more alienated than ever before. They don’t see their preferences reflected in the decisions made by politicians. Voters feel deeply powerless.
While Americans are mostly dissatisfied with Washington, particularly with the increasing partisanship and polarization, influence of special interests and dark money and lack of majority representation, they’ve not given up on democracy. In fact, many are becoming more politically active. Only by working together can Americans demand the changes our democracy needs to serve the greater good of the country. You are the change!
- Join wethepeople.org. Get in on the ground floor of our crowdsourced democracy movement to bring together Democrats, Independents and Republicans to represent the common interest of all citizens. Your contribution helps empower Americans to propose, refine and vote on common-sense political solutions and compete with special interests for political influence.