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Monmouth University Polling Institute

Low Public Confidence in American System

Thursday, January 04, 2018

8-in-10 say founders would be upset with how government operates today

West Long Branch, NJ  - Just half of Americans feel that our system of government is basically sound, down from 62% who felt that way in 1980. The Monmouth University Poll  also finds a widespread belief that our founders would be upset if they could see how the government they created is operating today. Most Americans say that they would prefer to see more collaboration in the way Congress operates even if that means some of their preferred policy outcomes would lose out in the process. More than 6-in-10 say the country has become more divided since Donald Trump took office.

Fully 81% of the public thinks that the founders of our country would be upset with the way the institutions of our government, such as Congress and the presidency, have been working over the past ten years. Just 11% say the founders would be happy with the way things have been going with the government they created.

"There was a time when the vast majority of Americans would brag about our system of government and how other countries wanted to emulate us. This source of pride has been slipping away. In fact, many seem to feel that founders like Madison and Hamilton may be turning over in their graves when they see how Washington operates today," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Just half (50%) of the American public feels our system of government is basically sound, including just 7% who feel it needs essentially no changes and 43% who say it could use some improvement.  This marks a significant drop over the past 38 years in the view that our system of government is sound. A poll taken by ORC right after the 1980 election found that more than 6-in-10 Americans (62%) felt then that the U.S. system of government was basically sound, including 6% who said it essentially needed no changes and 56% who felt it was sound but needed some improvement.

Currently, 1-in-4 Americans (25%) say that our system of government is not too sound and needs many improvements while another 24% are even more pessimistic, saying that our system is not sound at all and needs significant changes. In 1980, 27% of the public said that the American system of government was not too sound but only 10% said it was not sound at all.

The poll finds little partisan variation in the responses to these questions. For example, few Americans of any party group - 1-in-10 or less - say that our governmental system does not need any changes at all and there are no partisan differences in the belief that our nation's founders would be upset with today's state of affairs. Republicans (60%) are somewhat more likely than Democrats (48%) and independents (45%), though, to believe that our system today is basically sound.

"Republicans may be slightly more positive because their party currently holds the reins of power. But they still do not express anywhere near the widespread confidence that Americans from across the political spectrum had in our system of government just over a generation ago," said Murray.

Although President Trump promised to "drain the swamp" when he got to Washington, just 20% of the public feels he has made any progress on that front. In fact, 33% say he has "made the swamp worse." Another 38% say nothing has really changed regarding the quagmire in our nation's capital. The number who currently say Trump is draining the swamp is down from 25% in August and 24% in May 2017. The number who say he has made the swamp worse is higher than 26% who said this in August and about the same as 32% who felt this way in May of last year.

The Monmouth University Poll  also finds the vast majority of Americans are either angry at (20%) or dissatisfied with (60%) Washington. The 8-in-10 Americans who have a negative feeling about Washington today compares with 79% who said the same in May 2017 and 86% of registered voters who said the same in September 2016. Only 12% are satisfied with the way things are going in DC today and just 3% are happy with Washington. Democrats (86%) and independents (84%) are somewhat more likely than Republicans (69%) to hold a negative view of Washington, but these results still represent sizable majorities in all partisan groups.

More than 6-in-10 Americans (63%) feel that the country has become more divided since President Trump took office. This marks an uptick from 52% in March 2017 who felt the country was becoming more divided then under Trump. In the current poll, just 9% say the country is becoming more united since Trump took office and 26% say there has been no change in our sense of unity. A plurality of Republicans (47%) join majorities of independents (61%) and Democrats (80%) in the opinion that the nation has become more divided since Trump took office.

Overall, nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) say that Americans are greatly divided about our most important values. Only 23% say that we are united and in agreement on these values. These results are similar to polls taken in March 2017 and August 2016.

"Hyper-partisanship goes hand in hand with government dysfunction. Americans see a government that does not govern because elected officials are either self-serving or are driven by the ideological extremes that characterize our current political climate," said Murray.

Overall, about 8-in-10 Americans (79%) say it is more important for Congress to make sure it has open hearings and gets input from a wide variety of interests even if that means some of the policies the survey participants personally support may not get passed. Just 15% say it is more important to pass the policies they support even if that means not having open hearings or getting input from a wide variety of interests. Even when asked about specific issue areas, the vast majority of the public still says it would prefer to see Congress use "regular order" to consider bills even if it means that they might not individually agree with the outcome. This includes tax policies (78%), health care policies (75%), gun policies (72%), and abortion policies (71%).

On the other hand, small but significant numbers of Americans prefer to see their favored policies passed even if it means undercutting the deliberative legislative process. Among Republicans, nearly 3-in-10 (29%) prefer the "ends" over the "means" when it comes to gun policies. About 1-in-4 say the same about health care policies (26%) and tax policies (26%) and 1-in-5 say the same about abortion policies (21%). Somewhat fewer Democrats prefer their desired policy outcomes over following an open process when it comes to gun (19%), abortion (14%), health care (13%), and tax (13%) policies.

"Perhaps Americans overestimate their desire for open debate. Or perhaps the small number who are willing to weaken our political institutions to achieve short term political gains wield too much influence over the process. Regardless, there is a need for more courageous bipartisan political leadership to restore the public's faith in the American system of government," said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from December 10 to 12, 2017 with 806 adults in the United States.  The results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

Please note, this poll was conducted before excerpts from the new book on the Trump administration became public, but it relates to the latest news.

According to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute:

  • “What we are hearing about White House dysfunction will only bolster the public’s already dim view that our nation’s founders would probably be appalled if they could see what has happened to the institutions they created. Faith in the American system of government was already low. It’s hard to imagine that these new revelations are going to boost the public’s confidence that the federal government is firing on all cylinders.”
  • “Americans were already telling us that Donald Trump has not kept his promise to ‘drain the swamp.’ The stories we hear from this book certainly aren’t going to help turn that opinion around.”

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS                                                                        

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

 

[Q1-4 previously released.]

 

  1. Which of the following words best describes how you feel about Washington – angry, dissatisfied, satisfied, happy?
TREND: Dec.
2017
May
2017
Sept.
2016*
 Angry 20% 25% 20%
 Dissatisfied 60% 54% 66%
 Satisfied 12% 16% 9%
 Happy 3% 2% 3%
 (VOL) Don’t know 6% 2% 2%
(n) (806) (1,002) (802)

               * Registered voters

 

[Q6-7 previously released.]

 

  1. Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” when he got to Washington. Would you say that he has made progress draining the swamp, that he has made the swamp worse, or that nothing has really changed?
TREND: Dec.
2017
Aug.
2017
May
2017
Made progress draining the swamp 20% 25% 24%
Made the swamp worse 33% 26% 32%
Nothing has really changed 38% 39% 35%
(VOL) Don’t know 9% 10% 8%
(n) (806) (805) (1,002)

 

[Q9-23 previously released.]

 

  1. Which statement comes closer to your view: Americans are united and in agreement about the most important values - or - Americans are greatly divided when it comes to the most important values? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]
TREND: Dec.
2017
March
2017
Aug.
2016*
Americans are united 23% 22% 27%
Americans are greatly divided 72% 75% 70%
(VOL) Don’t know 5% 4% 4%
 (n) (806) (801) (803)

* Registered voters

 

  1. Has the country become more united, more divided, or not really changed since President Trump took office?
TREND: Dec.
2017
March
2017
More united 9% 11%
More divided 63% 52%
Not really changed 26% 34%
(VOL) Don’t know 2% 3%
 (n) (806) (801)

 

  1. I'm going to read four statements about our American system of government. Listen carefully and then tell me which one is closest to how you feel: our system of government is basically sound and essentially needs no changes, our system is basically sound, but needs some improvement, our system is not too sound and needs many improvements, or our system is not sound at all and needs significant changes?
Dec.
2017
Basically sound, no changes 7%
Basically sound, some improvement 43%
Not too sound, many improvements 25%
Not sound at all, significant changes 24%
(VOL) Don’t know 2%
 (n) (806)

 

  1. Do you think the founders of our country would be happy or upset with the way the institutions of our government, such as Congress and the presidency, have been working over the past ten years?
Dec.
2017
Happy 11%
Upset 81%
(VOL) Don’t know 8%
 (n) (806)

 

  1. Is it more important for Congress to pass the policies you support without having open hearings or getting input from a wide variety of interests - or - is it more important for Congress to make sure it has open hearings and gets input from a wide variety of interests even if that means some of the policies you support may not get passed? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]
Dec.
2017
Pass policies you support 15%
Open hearings/variety of interests 79%
(VOL) Don’t know 6%
 (n) (806)

 

[QUESTIONS 29-32 WERE ROTATED]

  1. Is it more important for Congress to pass the abortion policies you support without having open hearings or getting input from a wide variety of interests - or - is it more important for Congress to make sure it has open hearings and gets input from a wide variety of interests even if that means the abortion policies you support may not get passed? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]
Dec.
2017
Pass abortion policies you support 19%
Open hearings/variety of interests 71%
(VOL) Don’t know 10%
 (n) (806)

 

  1. Is it more important for Congress to pass the tax policies you support without having open hearings or getting input from a wide variety of interests - or - is it more important for Congress to make sure it has open hearings and gets input from a wide variety of interests even if that means the tax policies you support may not get passed? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]
Dec.
2017
Pass tax policies you support 18%
Open hearings/variety of interests 78%
(VOL) Don’t know 5%
 (n) (806)

 

  1. Is it more important for Congress to pass the health care policies you support without having open hearings or getting input from a wide variety of interests - or - is it more important for Congress to make sure it has open hearings and gets input from a wide variety of interests even if that means the health care policies you support may not get passed?

[CHOICES WERE ROTATED]

Dec.
2017
Pass health care policies you support 20%
Open hearings/variety of interests 75%
(VOL) Don’t know 6%
 (n) (806)

 

  1. Is it more important for Congress to pass the gun policies you support without having open hearings or getting input from a wide variety of interests - or - is it more important for Congress to make sure it has open hearings and gets input from a wide variety of interests even if that means the gun policies you support may not get passed? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]
Dec.
2017
Pass gun policies you support 22%
Open hearings/variety of interests 72%
(VOL) Don’t know 6%
 (n) (806)

 

[Q33-36 previously released.]

 

METHODOLOGY

The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from December 10 to 12, 2017 with a national random sample of 806 adults age 18 and older, in English. This includes 403 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 403 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Telephone numbers were selected through random digit dialing and landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and SSI (RDD sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design).  Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

 

DEMOGRAPHICS (weighted)

Self-Reported

28% Republican
41% Independent
31% Democrat
 
49% Male
51% Female
 
31% 18-34
34% 35-54
35% 55+
 
65% White
12% Black
15% Hispanic

  8% Asian/Other

 

 

 

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.

Download this Poll Report with all tables

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