Americans increasingly pessimistic, divided over state of US democracy

A Pew Research Center poll has found a sharp increase in pessimism among Democrat supporters in particular.

Supporters hold signs as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a campaign speech at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 3, 2020.  (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
Supporters hold signs as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a campaign speech at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 3, 2020.
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
The number of Democrat leaning voters in the USA who believe that Americans are free to peacefully protest has dropped by more than a third in just two years, a Pew Research poll has found. Republicans were only marginally less likely to agree.
In 2018, 68% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters agreed that "people [in America] are free to peacefully protest. But in the latest polling on the subject, that figure had dropped to just 43%, widening the gap between supporters of the two parties. By contrast, 80% of Republican voters agreed very much or somewhat with the statement two years ago, and in the latest poll 79% felt the same way, opening up a 36 point gap.
The poll also recorded a deep divide between Democrat and Republican supporters on whether everyone in America has an opportunity to succeed. Some 76% of Republican supporters agreed that they did, whereas only 28% of Democrat supporters believe that to be the case, amounting to a 48 point gap between the two.
Pessimism over the issue had again increased among Democrats; there has been a nine point drop over the last two years among Democrat leaning voters who believe there is equal opportunity in America. But Republicans were more likely to believe this to be the case in 2020, with the results showing an increase of two points over 2018 figures on the matter.
Sizeable gaps were also reported on whether the phrase “the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government each keep the others from having too much power” describes the US very or somewhat well. Some 65% of Republicans expressed this view, constituting a six point increase since 2018. However, a minority of Democrats (42%) agreed, amounting to a nine point drop over two years.
A majority of Republicans (52%) also agreed that the rights and freedoms of all people within America are respected, whereas only 30% of Democrats agreed. In this case, the decrease in optimism was approximately similar across the parties: both recorded an eight point drop, suggesting that across the board Americans feel that there is less respect within the country for difference than there was two years ago.
The poll was designed to assess the state of US democracy, by asking Americans how well they thought the country was upholding certain right, freedoms, and democratic imperatives such as respectful political debate and a robust justice system.
Overall, it found a great deal of pessimism among Americans. While the majority of Republicans felt that America offered equal opportunities, the right to peacefully protest, and that the political power was being kept in check, only minorities of Republican voters agreed that government is open and transparent (36%), that the tone of political debate is respectful (30%) and that Americans agree on basic facts, even if they disagree politically (28%).
Among Democrats, there was no majority positive outlook on any of the metrics. In some cases, such as whether judges are not influenced by political parties or elected officials, supporters of both parties were in close alignment - in that case, 40% of both Democrat and Republican supporters agreed that judges were not influenced.
There was also broad agreement on whether the tone of political debate in America is respectful: 30% of Republicans and 24% of Democrats believe it is. And while 28% of Republican supporters agreed that campaign contributions do not lead to greater political influence, 24% of Democrat supporters said the same.
The study was conducted between July 27 and August 2, and surveyed 11,001 US adults via Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel.