An overwhelming majority of Americans are profoundly troubled about the condition of our democracy, even as their faith in democratic ideals remains strong, according to a recent Washington Post – University of Maryland poll.
The survey of more than 1,600 people, completed in early October, found that 71 percent agree that our political system has reached “a dangerous low point” and that nearly four in 10 believe that is “the new normal.” Seventy percent said political divisions in the country are at least as bad as they were during the Vietnam War, when millions of Americans took to the streets and flocked to the polls to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops, pushing then-President Lyndon Johnson into retirement.
Despite those troubling views, 63 percent of those polled said they are very or somewhat proud of the way American democracy works; while that’s a clear majority, it represents the lowest showing in more than 20 years of Post polling on the question.
The results underscore the importance of the work Common Cause and other organizations are doing to combat the influence of money in politics, preserve and strengthen voting rights, promote independent media and the free flow of information, and strengthen ethics in government. Common Cause now has more than 1 million members and supporters, the most ever, and other democracy reform groups have reported surges in their support since President Trump’s election.
Among the survey’s other findings:
- Fewer than four in 10 Americans believe they can trust the federal government “to do the right thing” at least half of the time. State and local governments fared slightly better – 53 percent said they trust their state government and 61 percent voiced confidence that their local government does the right thing at least half of the time.
- Just under two-thirds of Americans now believe the U.S. political system is dysfunctional. Eighty-five percent blame President Trump for causing dysfunction, but that many or slightly more blame the Democratic Party (86 percent) and the Republican Party (91 percent).
- There is almost universal agreement that money is a major driver of government dysfunction. Ninety-six percent of those polled identified “money in politics” as causing dysfunction; 94 percent cited “wealthy political donors.”
- But the public is almost as unhappy about other major institutions. “The news media” (88 percent), “social media” (93 percent), “members of Congress (94 percent), and “people with extreme political views" (93 percent) also were tagged with “a lot” or “some” responsibility for dysfunction.
- Only 14 percent rate the ethics of politicians as “excellent” or “good,” the lowest percentage bestowing those ratings since at least 1987.
- Americans believe Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to try to satisfy voters by adopting extreme positions. Fifty-two percent said Republicans try to satisfy voters by appealing to extremes; 44 percent had that view of Democrats.
- A small majority of Americans believe that a person’s political views reflect how he/she lives. Fifty percent said that is true of Democrats; 54 percent it’s true of Republicans.
- Democrats outnumber Republicans, 34 percent to 24 percent, with 31 percent calling themselves independent. But those calling themselves “conservatives” outnumber “liberals,” 33 percent to 24 percent.
Office: Common Cause National