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Americans are united in their negative perception of national politics, new Pew report finds

Americans’ outlook on national politics is best summarized as “dismal,” according to a wide-ranging new Pew Research Center report released Tuesday.

“Americans have long been critical of politicians and skeptical of the federal government,” the report’s authors write. “But today, Americans’ views of politics and elected officials are unrelentingly negative, with little hope of improvement on the horizon. Majorities say the political process is dominated by special interests, flooded with campaign cash and mired in partisan warfare.”

Just 14% of US adults, the survey finds, believe that most elected officials care about the thoughts of people like them. Only 15% believe all or most currently serving elected officials ran for office even in part out of a desire to serve the public, while a majority say they think most were motivated by the desire to “make a lot of money.” And just 26% see the quality of candidates for political office over the past several years as good, down 21 points from just five years ago.

Just 27% of Americans describe the country’s political system as working even somewhat well today, with only 37% expressing even some confidence in this system’s future. An open-ended question asking Americans to describe politics these days in one word or phrase yielded overwhelmingly negative responses, ranging from “divisive” and “corrupt” to the kind of invective rarely found in analysis written by think tanks. Asked to describe a strong point of the American political system, more than half of respondents either denied that the system had any or skipped the question altogether.

Americans’ low regard for political institution persists across a somewhat dizzying range of findings. Among them: Just 26% rate Congress favorably, and fewer than half (44%) say that voting in elections is a highly effective way to change the country for the better. On a personal level, 65% of Americans say they frequently feel exhausted when thinking about politics and 55% that they feel angry, with a tenth or fewer feeling hopeful about or excited by the topic.

As the Pew report highlights, this disaffection is particularly notable in that it “comes at a time of historically high levels of voter turnout in national elections.” It also comes even as Americans continue to draw increasingly sharp distinctions between the parties: 54% say they see a great deal of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, a number that’s considerably higher than it was several decades ago.


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