Survey: Most say US not living up to its democratic ideals

Survey: Most say US not living up to its democratic ideals
© Greg Nash
A majority of Americans say the nation does not live up to ideals important to a flourishing democracy, like an open and transparent government or a government with policies that reflect the views of most citizens, according to a new report.
 
The comprehensive survey by the Pew Research Center released Thursday found deep partisan divides over whether the country is achieving some of the values critical to maintaining democratic principles.
 
Just 37 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents said everyone in the United States has an equal opportunity to succeed, while nearly three-quarters of Republicans, 74 percent, said the same. Similarly, only 38 percent of Democrats believe that everyone’s rights and freedoms are respected, a view shared by 60 percent of Republicans.
 
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In other areas, both sides agree on the importance of certain principles and on the country’s failure to live up to those principles.
 
Ninety-six percent of Americans said having an open and transparent government is important for the United States, but just 30 percent said an open and transparent government describes the U.S. very or fairly well. Ninety percent said it is important to have a respectful political debate, but only 25 percent said the American political debate is actually respectful.
 
“When you ask people about these sort of ideals that are related to democracy, you get majorities thinking every one is very important. There’s not an argument about that, it’s just about how well they’re being executed,” said Carroll Doherty, the Pew Research Center’s director of political research. “There’s a concern about support for democracy in the United States and whether that’s weakening.”
 
A little over 2 in 10 Americans, 21 percent, say the government is run for the benefit of all people. More than three-quarters, 76 percent — including broad majorities of both Democrats and Republicans — say the government is run by a few large interest groups looking out for their own concerns. The gap between the two sides has grown exponentially in the past decade after the recession.
 
Democrats and Republicans also have starkly different views of how well the American political system lives up to some of its most important standards, according to the survey, a view likely colored by recent debates over things like voter identification laws and partisan gerrymandering — once ignored as political sideshows that have now become touchstones for partisan disagreement.
 
Ninety-two percent of Americans say it is very or somewhat important that no eligible voters be denied the right to vote; 8 in 10 Republican voters, 80 percent, but only 56 percent of Democrats, say the U.S. election system ensures that is the case.
 
At the same time, only 42 percent of Republicans say the system properly keeps ineligible voters from casting a ballot, while 76 percent of Democrats think the American system achieves that goal very or somewhat well.
 
Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say the nation’s congressional districts are drawn fairly and reasonably. But 58 percent of Democrats say district boundaries are not fairly drawn, following years in which party figures such as former President Obama, former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderJuan Williams: Democrats finally hit Trump where it hurts GOP governor vetoes New Hampshire bill to create independent redistricting commission Why target Tucker Carlson? It's part of the left's war on the right MORE and others have spoken out about gerrymandered district lines. 
 
Among the most politically engaged Democratic voters, those likely to have heard or read about Obama's and Holder’s efforts to reform the redistricting process, only 29 percent believe the way congressional voting lines are drawn is fair and reasonable.
 
Younger voters are less likely to believe their vote actually matters in how the government is run or that ordinary citizens can make a difference in influencing government. Just 53 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 say voting gives them a say in how government is run, compared with nearly three-quarters, 73 percent, of those over the age of 65.
 
Younger voters are also less likely to think that the party in charge of Congress actually matters. Only 48 percent of those youngest voters say it really matters which side controls the House and Senate, while 83 percent of those over 65 years old say the same.
 
As views of American democratic institutions struggle, many place the blame on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE’s shoulders. A majority of Americans, 54 percent, say Trump has "not too much" or "no respect" for the nation’s democratic institutions and traditions. 
 
A strong majority on both sides, 76 percent, say it would be too risky to give the American president more powers to deal directly with the nation’s problems. Few Americans, only 34 percent, say the president makes a big difference in their lives, but more than 6 in 10 say the president makes a big difference in both America’s standing in the world and the nation’s mood.
 
Other polls have showed Trump’s approval rating struggling, but Americans are hardly more bullish on either major political party. Just 42 percent see the Democratic Party favorably, and only 41 percent see Republicans in a positive light. More than 4 in 10 Democrats and Republicans say they see the other party in a very unfavorable light, up about three-fold over levels measured in 1994. And nearly a quarter of voters say they view both parties unfavorably.
 
A majority of voters say they would favor amending the Constitution to end the electoral college, and to allow the presidential candidate who received the most votes to win the presidency. Voters who live in solidly blue states or solidly red states — those states presidential campaigns tend to overlook in the run-up to Election Day — are more likely to favor the popular vote. Those who live in battleground states are divided, though a narrow 50 percent majority favors keeping the electoral college.
 
The Pew Research Center survey is based on interviews with 4,656 Americans between Jan. 29 and Feb. 13 and a supplemental survey of 1,466 adults conducted March 7–14 via landlines and cellphones. It has a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.