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A poll asked voters if democracy is the ‘best system.’ Then came all the unexpected responses. – The Mercury News

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A poll asked voters if democracy is the ‘best system.’ Then came all the unexpected responses. – The Mercury News

The vast majority of Americans believe democracy, despite its problems, is the best system of government. But polling shows that far fewer younger voters agree.

The nationwide poll conducted in mid-March by Florida Atlantic University found 73% of voters agree that “Democracy may have problems, but it is the best system of government,” including 50% who strongly agree. Just 13% disagree.

But the youngest group of voters, those from 18 to 35, felt much differently.

Slightly more than half — 53% — agreed it’s the best system of government. Just 15% strongly agree while a quarter — 25% — disagreed.

That’s a significant difference — a pro-democracy advantage among all voters of 60 percentage points, compared to just 28 points among younger voters.

The finding merits further study, and warrants concern, said Kevin Wagner, an FAU political scientist and authority on public opinion polling.

The FAU poll also found the views of the youngest group of voters are dramatically different than the oldest.

Among voters 65 and older, 89% agree (including 73% who strongly agree) and just 6% disagree with the pro-democracy statement. That’s an 83-point pro-democracy advantage.

“The distinction between younger voters and older voters is very stark,” Wagner said, adding it suggests that “among younger voters there is a loss of faith in the system and the process. That should cause us to ask why younger voters feel the democratic system is not working for them?”

Wagner said the thing that keeps jumping out to him from the poll results was the results among younger voters. “If that’s not concerning, we’re not paying attention.”

The youngest voters were also far more likely to express ambivalence when asked if they agree that democracy is the best system of government.

Among all voters, 14% said they didn’t agree or disagree.

Among those 18-34, 25% said they didn’t agree or disagree; among those 65 and older, just 4% didn’t feel either way.

Political differences

The poll results also revealed political differences in response to the democracy statement.

People who said they plan to vote for former President Donald Trump, the presumed Republican nominee, in November were 22 percentage points less likely to agree that democracy is the best system of government than people who said they plan to vote for President Joe Biden.

Among Biden voters, 85% agree democracy is the best form of government even though it may have problems, 6% disagree, and 10% don’t agree or disagree.

Among Trump voters, 63% agree, 18% disagree, 19% don’t agree or disagree.

That’s a 79-point pro-democracy advantage among Biden supporters and a 44-point advantage among Trump supporters.

When the question is examined by party affiliation of those surveyed — as opposed to those who’ve decided between Biden and Trump — the differences aren’t as pronounced.

Among Democrats: 79% agree, 8% disagree, and 13% don’t agree or disagree.

Among Republicans: 69% agree, 17% disagree, and 13% said neither.

Among independents: 67% agree, 15% disagree, and 19% said neither.

Wagner said the larger share of Republicans than Democrats who disagree may stem from Trump, who has “has suggested he thinks the system is not fair. And I think that’s reflected a bit in the Republican vote.”

Income, gender

There were some other demographic differences, but they weren’t nearly as significant as the difference between the youngest and oldest voters or among Biden and Trump voters.

People with higher incomes were more likely to agree that democracy is the best than people who earn less.

Among voters making $50,000 a year or less: 68% agree, 16% disagree, 17% don’t agree or disagree.

Among those making $100,000 or more: 82% agree, 12% disagree, 6% don’t agree or disagree.

The difference in outlook according to earnings isn’t surprising, Wagner said. “If you’re wealthy, it’s pretty easy to say the system is working for you.”

Polling often shows differences in outlooks between men and women. But the FAU poll didn’t find meaningful differences on the democracy question.

Among men: 77% agree with the democracy-is-best statement, 12% disagree, 11%  don’t agree or disagree.

Among women: 69% agree, 15% disagree, 17% don’t agree or disagree.

How well it works

FAU researchers asked a related question about “how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the way democracy works in the United States?”

After years of claims by Trump and his supporters that the 2020 presidential election was rigged — an assertion for which repeated investigations have found no evidence — there are higher levels of dissatisfaction among the former president’s supporters.

A total of 46% of voters surveyed said they were satisfied with the way democracy works in the U.S.

Among people age 18-34, it was 36%; for 65 and older voters, 54%; Biden voters, 63%; Trump voters, 33%.

Among all voters, 39% said they were dissatisfied with the way democracy works in the U.S. Among those ages 18-34, 39%; 65 and older, 36%; Biden voters, 23%; Trump voters, 51%.

And 15% of all voters said they weren’t satisfied or dissatisfied. Among those ages 18-34, 25%; 65 and older, 11%; Biden voters, 14%; and Trump voters, 16%.

Takeaways

Overall, Wagner noted, there is still broad support for democracy.

“Most Americans do have faith in democracy, and I think considering all the negativity that we hear, that’s actually a pretty good finding,” Wagner said.

Even though “a good number of people are currently dissatisfied with how our government is operating,” Wagner said “people like democracy and maybe are a little more frustrated with how democracy operates in the United States.”

Wagner said too many people think that younger voters, if they turn out, will automatically vote for Democrats.

“Many people are missing the fact that younger voters are actually pretty upset about the state of our political universe,” and that could lead to some upended assumptions — including the possibility that their voting patterns may not line up with widespread expectations.

One result might be more support from younger voters or independent, third-party candidates, or for Trump, he said.

Fine print

The poll of 1,053 registered voters was conducted March 15-17 by Mainstreet Research for Florida Atlantic University’s PolCom Lab, which is a collaboration of the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies and Department of Political Science.

The survey used text messages to reach registered voters who responded to a link to complete the survey online and used automated phone calls to reach other voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full survey of Democrats, Republicans and independents. The margin of error for smaller groups, such as Republicans or Democrats, or men and women, is higher because the sample sizes are smaller.

Anthony Man can be reached at [email protected] and can be found @browardpolitics on Facebook, Threads.net and Post.news.



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