Americans have long been critical of politicians and skeptical of the federal government. 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. Elected officials are widely viewed as self-serving and ineffective.
A comprehensive new Pew Research Center study of the state of the nation’s politics finds no single focal point for the public’s dissatisfaction. There is widespread criticism of the three branches of government, both political parties, as well as political leaders and candidates for office.
Notably, Americans’ unhappiness with politics comes at a time of historically high levels of voter turnout in national elections. The elections of 2018, 2020 and 2022 were three of the highest-turnout U.S. elections of their respective types in decades.
But voting in elections is very different from being satisfied with the state of politics – and the public is deeply dissatisfied.
- Just 4% of U.S. adults say the political system is working extremely or very well; another 23% say it is working somewhat well. About six-in-ten (63%) express not too much or no confidence at all in the future of the U.S. political system.
- Positive views of many governmental and political institutions are at historic lows. Just 16% of the public say they trust the federal government always or most of the time. While trust has hovered near historic lows for the better part of the last 20 years, today it stands among the lowest levels dating back nearly seven decades. And more Americans have an unfavorable than favorable opinion of the Supreme Court – the first time that has occurred in polling going back to the late 1980s.
- A growing share of the public dislikes both political parties. Nearly three-in-ten (28%) express unfavorable views of both parties, the highest share in three decades of polling. And a comparable share of adults (25%) do not feel well-represented by either party.
- Candidate choices are underwhelming. As the presidential campaign heats up, 63% of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the candidates who have emerged so far. Setting aside the presidential campaign, there has been a downward trend in views of the quality of all political candidates. Just 26% rate the quality of political candidates as very or somewhat good, down about 20 percentage points since 2018.
- Majorities back age and term limits and eliminating the Electoral College. Reflecting the public’s frustration with the federal government and political leaders, large shares of Americans support various changes to the political system, including for such long-standing proposals as establishing term limits for members of Congress and scrapping the Electoral College. Age limits – for both federal elected officials and members of the Supreme Court – draw broad support. But there is little appetite in the public for increasing the size of the U.S. House or modifying the allocation of Senate seats.
Categories: Culture Wars/Current Controversies