In late 2015, the Pew Research Center released a troubling report titled “Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government.” The poll revealed a shocking lack of confidence in public institutions, with only one in five respondents describing government programs as well-run.
“Currently, just 19% say they can trust the government always or most of the time,” according to the report, “among the lowest levels in the past half-century.” But if you thought things were bad last November, they appear to have gotten even worse since then.
“Nine in 10 Americans lack confidence in the country’s political system,” according to a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, “and among a normally polarized electorate, there are few partisan differences in the public’s lack of faith in the political parties, the nominating process, and the branches of government.”
It is somewhat difficult and by no means an exact science to compare the AP-NORC poll with the November 2015 Pew poll, as they were conducted by different organizations. Besides the comparison of those who “can trust the government always or most of the time” with those who have “confidence in the country’s political system,” however, there are some other indications that the situation has further deteriorated since last fall.
In the November Pew poll, 22 percent of respondents said they were “angry,” while 57 percent said they were “frustrated.” The new AP-NORC poll, in contrast, finds 52 percent of respondents feeling “angry,” 70 percent of respondents “frustrated,” along with a solid majority of 55 percent feeling “helpless.”
The biggest headline-grabbing finding of the new poll is that while 65 percent of Americans are “interested” in the election, only 23 percent are “excited” about it. This seems to lend additional credibility to the finding from Gallup that between January and March the number of people with “quite a lot of thought given” to the election increased, while the number of those “extremely or very enthusiastic about voting” similarly decreased.
Other major findings in the new AP-NORC poll include that just 13 percent think the two-party system works for presidential elections, with 38 percent saying it is seriously broken.
“Neither party is seen as particularly receptive to fresh ideas,” according to the poll. “Only 17 percent of the public say the Democratic Party is open to new ideas about dealing with the country’s problems; 10 percent say that about the Republican Party.”
It is difficult to find any positive spin on these statistics, which appear to be genuinely dismal and frightening. But if there is a bright side, it may be this: You can rest assured knowing that you’re not the only one who sees the current election cycle as a nightmarish freak show spiraling dangerously out of control. It is in fact only a small minority of Americans who see things any other way.