June 12, 2018

The Public, the Political System, and American Democracy


The western front of the United States Capitol / Photo by Noclip, Wikimedia Commons


Most Americans say ‘design and structure’ of government need big changes.


04.26.2018

At a time of growing stress on democracy around the world, Americans generally agree on democratic ideals and values that are important for the United States. But for the most part, they see the country falling well short in living up to these ideals, according to a new study of opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of key aspects of American democracy and the political system.

Democracy in America: Ideals vs. reality

The public’s criticisms of the political system run the gamut, from a failure to hold elected officials accountable to a lack of transparency in government. And just a third say the phrase “people agree on basic facts even if they disagree politically” describes this country well today.

The perceived shortcomings encompass some of the core elements of American democracy. An overwhelming share of the public (84%) says it is very important that “the rights and freedoms of all people are respected.” Yet just 47% say this describes the country very or somewhat well; slightly more (53%) say it does not.

Despite these criticisms, most Americans say democracy is working well in the United States – though relatively few say it is working very well. At the same time, there is broad support for making sweeping changes to the political system: 61% say “significant changes” are needed in the fundamental “design and structure” of American government to make it work for current times.

The public sends mixed signals about how the American political system should be changed, and no proposals attract bipartisan support. Yet in views of how many of the specific aspects of the political system are working, both Republicans and Democrats express dissatisfaction.

To be sure, there are some positives. A sizable majority of Americans (74%) say the military leadership in the U.S. does not publicly support one party over another, and nearly as many (73%) say the phrase “people are free to peacefully protest” describes this country very or somewhat well.

In general, however, there is a striking mismatch between the public’s goals for American democracy and its views of whether they are being fulfilled. On 23 specific measures assessing democracy, the political system and elections in the United States – each widely regarded by the public as very important – there are only eight on which majorities say the country is doing even somewhat well.

The new survey of the public’s views of democracy and the political system by Pew Research Center was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 13 among 4,656 adults. It was supplemented by a survey conducted March 7-14 among 1,466 adults on landlines and cellphones.

Among the major findings:

Mixed views of structural changes in the political system. The surveys examine several possible changes to representative democracy in the United States. Most Americans reject the idea of amending the Constitution to give states with larger populations more seats in the U.S. Senate, and there is little support for expanding the size of the House of Representatives. As in the past, however, a majority (55%) supports changing the way presidents are elected so that the candidate who receives the most total votes nationwide – rather than a majority in the Electoral College – wins the presidency.

A majority says Trump lacks respect for democratic institutions. Fewer than half of Americans (45%) say Donald Trump has a great deal or fair amount of respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions, while 54% say he has not too much respect or no respect. These views are deeply split along partisan and ideological lines. Most conservative Republicans (55%) say Trump has a “great deal” of respect for democratic institutions; most liberal Democrats (60%) say he has no respect “at all” for these traditions and institutions.

Views of candidate quality much less positive for presidential elections than for local contests

Government and politics seen as working better locally than nationally. Far more Americans have a favorable opinion of their local government (67%) than of the federal government (35%). In addition, there is substantial satisfaction with the quality of candidates running for Congress and local elections in recent elections. That stands in contrast with views of the recent presidential candidates; just 41% say the quality of presidential candidates in recent elections has been good.

Few say tone of political debate is ‘respectful.’ Just a quarter of Americans say “the tone of debate among political leaders is respectful” is a statement that describes the country well. However, the public is more divided in general views about tone and discourse: 55% say too many people are “easily offended” over the language others use; 45% say people need to be more careful in using language “to avoid offending” others.

Most have little or no confidence in political wisdom of the American people

Americans don’t spare themselves from criticism. In addressing the shortcomings of the political system, Americans do not spare themselves from criticism: Just 39% say “voters are knowledgeable about candidates and issues” describes the country very or somewhat well. In addition, a 56% majority say they have little or no confidence in the political wisdom of the American people. However, that is less negative than in early 2016, when 64% had little or no confidence. Since the presidential election, Republicans have become more confident in people’s political wisdom.

Cynicism about money and politics. Most Americans think that those who donate a lot of money to elected officials have more political influence than others. An overwhelming majority (77%) supports limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns and issues. And nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) say new laws could be effective in reducing the role of money in politics.

What’s important to good citizenship? Voting, paying taxes, following the law

Varying views of obligations of good citizenship. Large majorities say it is very important to vote, pay taxes and always follow the law in order to be a good citizen. Half of Americans say it is very important to know the Pledge of Allegiance, while 45% say it is very important to protest government actions a person believes is wrong. Just 36% say displaying the American flag is very important to being a good citizen.

Most are aware of basic facts about political system and democracy.Overwhelming shares correctly identify the constitutional right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution and know the role of the Electoral College. A narrower majority knows how a tied vote is broken in the Senate, while fewer than half know the number of votes needed to break a Senate filibuster. (Take the civics knowledge quiz.)

Democracy seen as working well, but most say ‘significant changes’ are needed

Most Democrats favor major changes in ‘design’ of govt.; Republicans are split

In general terms, most Americans think U.S. democracy is working at least somewhat well. Yet a 61% majority says “significant changes” are needed in the fundamental “design and structure” of American government to make it work in current times. When asked to compare the U.S. political system with those of other developed nations, fewer than half rate it “above average” or “best in the world.”

Overall, nearly six-in-ten Americans (58%) say democracy in the United States is working very or somewhat well, though just 18% say it is working very well. Four-in-ten say it is working not too well or not at all well.

Republicans have more positive views of the way democracy is working than do Democrats: 72% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say democracy in the U.S. is working at least somewhat well, though only 30% say it is working very well. Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, 48% say democracy works at least somewhat well, with just 7% saying it is working very well.

More Democrats than Republicans say significant changes are needed in the design and structure of government. By more than two-to-one (68% to 31%), Democrats say significant changes are needed. Republicans are evenly divided: 50% say significant changes are needed in the structure of government, while 49% say the current structure serves the country well and does not need significant changes.

The public has mixed evaluations of the nation’s political system compared with those of other developed countries. About four-in-ten say the U.S. political system is the best in the world (15%) or above average (26%); most say it is average (28%) or below average (29%), when compared with other developed nations. Several other national institutions and aspects of life in the U.S. – including the military, standard of living and scientific achievements – are more highly rated than the political system.

Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to say the U.S. political system is best in the world or above average (58% vs. 27%). As recently as four years ago, there were no partisan differences in these opinions.

Bipartisan criticism of political system in a number of areas

Wide partisan gaps in views of some aspects of political system, criticism from both parties on others

Majorities in both parties say “people are free to peacefully protest” describes the U.S. well. And there is bipartisan sentiment that the military leadership in the U.S. does not publicly favor one party over another.

In most cases, however, partisans differ on how well the country lives up to democratic ideals – or majorities in both parties say it is falling short.

Some of the most pronounced partisan differences are in views of equal opportunity in the U.S. and whether the rights and freedoms of all people are respected.

Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say “everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed” describes the United States very or somewhat well (74% vs. 37%).

A majority of Republicans (60%) say the rights and freedoms of all people are respected in the United States, compared with just 38% of Democrats.

And while only about half of Republicans (49%) say the country does well in respecting “the views of people who are not in the majority on issues,” even fewer Democrats (34%) say this.

No more than about a third in either party say elected officials who engage in misconduct face serious consequences or that government “conducts its work openly and transparently.” Comparably small shares in both parties (28% of Republicans, 25% of Democrats) say the following sentence describes the country well: “People who give a lot of money to elected officials do not have more political influence than other people.”

Fewer than half in both parties also say news organizations do not favor one political party, though Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say this describes the country well (38% vs. 18%). There also is skepticism in both parties about the political independence of judges. Nearly half of Democrats (46%) and 38% of Republicans say judges are not influenced by political parties.

Partisan gaps in opinions about many aspects of U.S. elections

Republicans, Democrats have starkly different perceptions of voting by eligible and ineligible voters

For the most part, Democrats and Republicans agree about the importance of many principles regarding elections in the U.S.

Overwhelming shares in both parties say it is very important that elections are free from tampering (91% of Republicans, 88% of Democrats say this) and that voters are knowledgeable about candidates and issues (78% in both parties).

But there are some notable differences: Republicans are almost 30 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say it is very important that “no ineligible voters are permitted to vote” (83% of Republicans vs. 55% of Democrats).

And while majorities in both parties say high turnout in presidential elections is very important, more Democrats (76%) than Republicans (64%) prioritize high voter turnout.

The differences are even starker in evaluations of how well the country is doing in fulfilling many of these objectives. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that “no eligible voters are prevented from voting” describes elections in the U.S. very or somewhat well (80% vs. 56%). By contrast, more Democrats (76%) than Republicans (42%) say “no ineligible voters are permitted to vote” describes elections well.

Democrats – particularly politically engaged Democrats – are critical of the process for determining congressional districts. A majority of Republicans (63%) say the way congressional voting districts are determined is fair and reasonable compared with just 39% of Democrats; among Democrats who are highly politically engaged, just 29% say the process is fair.

And fewer Democrats than Republicans consider voter turnout for elections in the U.S. – both presidential and local – to be “high.” Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) say “there is high voter turnout in presidential elections” describes elections well, compared with only about half of Democrats (52%).

Still, there are a few points of relative partisan agreement: Majorities in both parties (62% of Republicans, 55% of Democrats) say “elections are free from tampering.” And Republicans and Democrats are about equally skeptical about whether voters are knowledgeable about candidates and issues (40% of Republicans, 38% of Democrats).

1. Democracy and government, the U.S. political system, elected officials and governmental institutions

Most Americans say nation’s democracy is working at least ‘somewhat well’

Americans are generally positive about the way democracy is working in the United States. Yet a majority also says that the “fundamental design and structure” of U.S. government is in need of “significant changes” to make it work today.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say U.S. democracy is working at least somewhat well, and less likely to say government is in need of sweeping changes.

And far more Republicans than Democrats say the U.S. political system is “best in the world” or “above average” when compared with political systems of other developed nations.

Overall, about six-in-ten Americans say democracy is working well in the U.S. today (18% very well, 40% somewhat well); four-in-ten say it is not working well (27% not too well and 13% not at all well).

About seven-in-ten (72%) Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say U.S. democracy is working very or somewhat well, compared with 48% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Relatively small shares in both parties (30% of Republicans and just 7% of Democrats) say democracy in the U.S. is working very well.

Support for sweeping change in govt. is higher among less politically engaged

While a majority of Americans say democracy in this country is working well, about six-in-ten (61%) say significant changes to the fundamental design and structure of government are needed to make it work for current times; 38% say the design and structure of government serves the country well and does not need significant changes.

By roughly two-to-one (68% to 31%), Democrats say significant changes are needed, while Republicans are divided (50% to 49%) over whether or not extensive changes are needed.

Although the view that significant changes are needed is widely held, those with higher levels of political engagement are less likely to say this than people who are less politically engaged.

Overall, those with high levels of political engagement and participation are split over whether significant changes are needed or not (51% vs. 48%). Views that the American system of government needs far-reaching reforms are more widespread among those with lower levels of engagement: 60% of those with a moderate level of engagement say this, along with 71% of those who are relatively unengaged with politics.

This pattern is evident within both partisan coalitions: 40% of Republicans and Republican leaners who are highly engaged with politics say the fundamental design and structure of American government needs significant reform, compared with 60% of low-engagement Republicans. Similarly, while a 57% majority of highly engaged Democrats and Democratic leaners say significant changes are needed, that share rises to 78% of the least politically engaged Democrats.

Racial, educational, age gaps in views of need for ‘structural’ change in govt.

Across demographic groups, there are only modest differences in the shares saying that democracy is working at least somewhat well, but there are more pronounced differences on whether changes are needed to the fundamental design and structure of government.

Whites (54%) are less likely than blacks (70%) and Hispanics (76%) to say the government needs significant change, but the three groups have similar assessments of American democracy’s performance.

There also are significant age gaps over whether extensive change is needed to the structure and design of government, with 66% of adults younger than 50 saying this, compared with 58% of those ages 50 to 64 and 50% of those 65 and older. But age groups differ little in their evaluations of how well democracy is functioning.

Educational groups also differ little in their overall opinions of how well democracy is working. But those without a bachelor’s degree (65%) are more likely to say the government needs significant change than those with a college degree (54%) or a postgraduate degree (45%).

Americans give their political system mixed grades

U.S. political system seen as no better than average compared with others

When asked to compare the U.S. political system with others in developed countries, only about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say it is “best in the world” or “above average.” Most (57%) say it is “average” or “below average.”

Several other national institutions and aspects of life in the U.S. are more highly rated than the political system. Nearly eight-in-ten (79%) say the U.S. military is either above average or the best in the world compared with militaries in other developed nations – with 38% calling it best in the world.

Larger shares also say the U.S. standard of living, colleges and universities, scientific achievements and economy are at least above average internationally than say that about the political system. Only the nation’s health care system (30% best in the world or above average) and public schools (18%) are rated lower.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents generally give the U.S. better marks for its performance on these issues than Democrats and Democratic leaners. About six-in-ten Republicans say the country’s political system is above average or the best in the world (58%), compared with about a quarter of Democrats (27%). Republicans also give the country much higher marks than Democrats on its standard of living, health care and economy.

Wider partisan gaps in views of how U.S. political system, other sectors compare internationally

The shares of Republicans and Democrats giving the U.S. high marks on several of these national institutions and aspects of American life have diverged sharply since 2014.

Today, Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to say the U.S. political system is above average or the best in the world (58% vs. 27%).

In 2014, about four-in-ten members of both parties gave the political system a positive rating (37% of Republicans, 36% of Democrats); in 2009, identical shares of Republicans and Democrats (52% each) said the U.S. political system was at least above average.

Partisan divides are growing in other areas as well. For example, 61% of Republicans and just 38% of Democrats describe the U.S. economy as best in the world or above average. Partisan differences in these assessments were much more modest in 2014 and 2009.

Little public confidence in elected officials

Elected officials draw less confidence than other institutions and leaders

Americans express little confidence in elected officials to act in the best interests of the public. Just a quarter say they have a great deal (3%) or fair amount (22%) of confidence in elected officials.

That is by far the lowest level of confidence in the six groups included in the survey. Large majorities say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the military (80%) and scientists (79%). In addition, higher shares express confidence in religious leaders (49%), business leaders (44%) and the news media (40%).

Overall public confidence in these groups is little changed since 2016, but in some cases – including elected officials – the views among Republicans and Democrats have shifted.

Republicans and Democrats diverge in views of elected officials, news media, business leaders

Though majorities of both Republicans and Democrats continue to express little or no confidence in public officials, Republicans (36%) are more likely than Democrats (17%) to express at least a fair amount of confidence in elected officials to act in the public interest. Two years ago, more Democrats (32%) than Republicans (22%) had confidence in elected officials.

The partisan gap in confidence in the news media also has widened considerably. Today, 58% of Democrats and just 16% of Republicans are confident in the news media to act in the public interest. Since 2016, the share expressing at least a fair amount of confidence in the news media has increased 12 percentage points among Democrats, while falling 13 points among Republicans.

And more Republicans have confidence in business leaders than did so two years (62% now, 51% then). Far fewer Democrats express confidence in business leaders (32%), and their views are little changed from two years ago.

Republicans also express more confidence in the military (92%) than do Democrats (73%), and the gap has not changed much since 2016.

State, local governments viewed more favorably than federal government

Federal government consistently viewed less favorably than state and local govt.

Americans have more favorable opinions of their state and local governments than the federal government in Washington. Two-thirds say they view their local government favorably, and 58% have favorable views of their state government. Only 35% of adults report a favorable opinion of the federal government.

Views of federal, state and local government have changed little over the past decade. Favorable opinions of the federal government have fallen significantly since peaking in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Favorable views of federal govt. among Republicans have risen since election

While overall views of the federal government in Washington are largely unchanged from late 2015, Republicans and Democrats have moved in opposite directions since then.

Today, 44% of Republicans and Republican leaners have a favorable opinion of the federal government, compared with 28% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. In 2015, views of the federal government were reversed: 45% of Democrats had a favorable view versus 18% of Republicans. Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of the federal government also flipped between 2008 and 2009, when Barack Obama won the presidency.

There are much smaller partisan differences in favorability toward states and local government. Majorities in both parties (61% of Republicans, 55% of Democrats) have favorable impressions of their state government; similar shares in both parties (69% of Republicans, 68% of Democrats) view their local governments favorably.

Views of Congress and the Supreme Court

Ratings of Congress remain negative

Views of Congress remain extremely negative: Two-thirds of Americans say they have an unfavorable view of Congress, compared with 30% saying their view is favorable. The share expressing unfavorable views has increased slightly from a year ago (62%).

Republicans’ views of Congress are less favorable than a year ago

With their party in control of both houses of Congress, Republicans’ views are slightly more favorable than Democrats: 37% of Republicans and Republican leaners say this versus 24% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Republican’s attitudes are more negative than a year ago, when 44% had a favorable opinion. Views among Democrats are mostly unchanged.

Most view Supreme Court favorably

Attitudes toward the Supreme Court continue to improve after reaching 30-year lows in 2015. Republicans’ views, in particular, are now more positive than three years ago.

Two-thirds of the public says they view the court favorably, and about three-in-ten (28%) hold unfavorable views. The share of the public saying it has a favorable view of the Supreme Court has increased 18 percentage points since 2015 (48%).

Republicans’ views of Supreme Court now more favorable than Democrats’

Most Republicans viewed the Supreme Court unfavorably after its decisions on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage in summer 2015: Just a third of Republicans viewed the court favorably, compared with about six-in-ten Democrats (61%). Today, more Republicans (71%) hold a favorable view of the Supreme Court than Democrats (62%). Favorable views among Democrats have fallen since 2016.

2. Views of American democratic values and principles

Public sees a variety of democratic values as very important to the country

The public places great importance on a broad range of democratic ideals and principles in the United States today. Across 16 democratic values asked about in the survey – including respecting the rights of all, having a balance of power across government branches and having officials face serious consequences for misconduct – large majorities say these are very important for the country.

But evaluations of how wellthe country is upholding these values are decidedly mixed. And when it comes to ideals more squarely in the political arena, such as an unbiased news media, partisan cooperation and respectful political debate, broad majorities of the public – including large shares of both Republicans and Democrats – say the country is falling short.

Nine-in-ten or more say each of the 16 items is at least somewhat important for the country. About eight-in-ten or more say it is very important for the country that the rights and freedoms of all are respected (84%), officials face serious consequences for misconduct (83%), that judges are not influenced by political parties (82%), and that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed (82%).

Majorities place great importance on partisan cooperation (78% very important), independent news media (76%) and the right to peaceful protest (74%).

Comparably large shares also say it is very important that the government is open and transparent (74%) and that people who give a lot of money to elected officials do not have more political influence than other people (74%).

The public is relatively less likely to emphasize the importance of respecting the views of those who are not in the majority, respectful tone in political discourse, shared acceptance of basic facts, and government policies that reflect the views of most Americans. Still, roughly 90% call these principles at least somewhat important, including about six-in-ten who say each is very important.

Public deeply skeptical about partisan cooperation, tone of debate, influence of major political donors

About three-quarters say the U.S. is described very or somewhat well by the phrases “military leadership does not publicly express support for one party over the other” (74%) and “people are free to peacefully protest” (73%).

More than half (55%) say the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government keep the others from having too much power; and 52% think the country is described well by the phrase “everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

However, for the remaining 12 of 16 democratic ideals and principles included in the survey, majorities say they describe the country as doing not too or not at all well.

For instance, on such core principles as an independent judiciary, just 43% say that “judges are not influenced by political parties” describes the country well; 56% say this describes the country not too or not at all well.

Larger majorities say that an open and transparent government (69%) and news organizations that do not favor a political party (70%) do not describe the country well.

Some of the public’s most negative judgements are reserved for values that are most squarely in the political sphere. Large majorities do not see partisan cooperation (80%) or respectful political debate (74%) as describing the country well. Similarly, 72% say the country is not well described as a place where people who contribute to campaigns do not have more influence than other people; 69% also say the phrase “elected officials face serious consequences for misconduct” does not describe the country well.

Country viewed as falling short on a range of widely supported democratic values

In general, there are wide gaps between the importance the public places on a value and public perception of how well the country reflects that value.

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say it is very important for Republicans and Democrats to work together on issues, but the public is 59 percentage points less likely to say partisan cooperation describes the country very or fairly well (19%). Such wide gaps characterize a range of issues across dimensions.

For instance, 84% say it is very important for the country that the rights and freedoms of all people are respected, but far fewer (47%) say this describes the country well. And few (34%) think that people in the country agree on basic facts, even though most (60%) think this is very important.

There are a few exceptions to this pattern. There is no gap in the shares who say the right to peaceful protest is very important (74%) and say it describes the country well (73%). And nonpartisan military leadership is the only democratic ideal for which more say this describes the country very or somewhat well (74%) than say it is very important (66%).

Partisan differences in views of democratic values

Partisans agree on importance of many democratic values, differ on right to peaceful protest

On the whole, Republicans and Democrats largely agree on the importance of many democratic values. A majority within each partisan coalition says that each of the 16 items included in the survey is very important to the country.

For instance, comparably large shares of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (84%) and Democrats and Democratic leaners (83%) say it is very important that judges are not influenced by political parties. Similarly, 77% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans say it is very important for there to be a balance of power across branches of government.

However, there are a handful of significant differences between the views of partisans. One of the largest is over the importance of the right to protest. About eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (82%) say it’s very important that people are free to peacefully protest, compared with a smaller 64% majority of Republicans and Republican leaners (another 29% of Republicans say this is somewhat important).

Democrats also are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say it is very important that the views of those who are not in the majority on issues are respected (66% vs. 56%).

By contrast, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say it is very important that news organizations do not favor one political party (77% vs. 66%).

Sizable partisan gaps on whether all have an equal opportunity for success, people’s rights are respected

Far more Republicans than Democrats say respect for rights of all, equal opportunity describe country today

There are bigger gaps between the views of Republicans and Democrats when it comes to how well the country is doing in living up to many democratic ideals and principles.

Most Republicans and Republican leaners say the phrases “everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed” (74%) and “the rights and freedoms of all people are respected” (60%) describe the country well.

Democrats and Democratic leaners disagree: Just 37% think the country merits being described as a place with equal opportunity, and only 38% say the country is described well as a place where the right and freedoms of all are respected.

Larger majorities of Republicans than Democrats also say the country is described well as a place where military leadership does not publicly express partisan preferences (83% vs. 69%) and where people are free to peacefully protest (80% vs. 68%). About half of Republicans (49%) think the description of the U.S. as a place where the views of those not in the majority are respected applies; about a third of Democrats (34%) say the same.

Democrats are more positive than Republicans when it comes to questions about bias and independence among news organizations. Overall, 53% of Democrats say “news organizations are independent of government influence” describes the country well. Far fewer Republicans (31%) say the same. And while relatively small shares of both parties say the country is described well as having news organizations that don’t favor one political party, Democrats (38%) are more likely to say this than Republicans (18%)

However, there are a number of values on which there is little difference in the views of Republicans and Democrats. In particular, similar shares of those in both parties say descriptions of partisan cooperation, respectful political debate, basic agreement on facts, limits on the political influence of money and serious consequences for official misconduct do not describe the country well.

Political engagement, partisanship and assessments of democratic values

Highly engaged partisans disagree over independence of news media in U.S.

In several areas, especially on items related to news organizations, partisan differences are even larger among those who are highly engaged politically.

When it comes to whether news organizations in the country are independent of government influence, 60% of highly engaged Democrats say this describes the country very or fairly well, compared with just 27% of highly engaged Republicans – an opinion gap of 33 percentage points. Divides in views are more modest between Republicans and Democrats with medium (14 points) or low (16 points) levels of political engagement.

There also is a substantial partisan divide among those with high or medium levels of political engagement over whether government policies in the country today reflect the views of most Americans and whether the views of those not in the majority are respected. However, among Republicans and Democrats with low levels of political engagement, there are very modest differences in views.

Similar patterns are seen in views of equal opportunity and whether the rights and freedoms of all are respected. More politically engaged Democrats are less likely than less engaged Democrats to say these descriptions apply to the U.S.

Age and views of democratic ideals and principles

There is general agreement across age groups about the importance of key democratic values. Large majorities of both old and young say each of the 16 items included in the survey is very or somewhat important for the U.S. However, on many items, there are differences in the shares describing a number of values as “very important,” with older adults more likely to place higher levels of importance on an item than younger adults.

Wide majorities across age groups see key aspects of democracy as important, but older adults are more likely to regard several as ‘very’ important

For example, while large majorities of 90% or more say transparent governance is important, those 65 and older are more than 20 percentage points more likely than those under 30 to call this very important (84% vs. 63%). In views of people agreeing on “basic facts” even if they disagree on politics, sizable majorities across age categories regard this as important, but 70% of those 65 and older say it is very important, compared with no more than about six-in-ten in younger age groups.

However, there are exceptions to this general pattern. There are no significant differences in views of the importance of people having the right to protest peacefully – about three-quarters in each category regard this as very important.

There are modest age differences in evaluations of how well the country is doing in living up to these democratic values. On the right to peacefully protest, for example, about eight-in-ten of those 50 and older (79%) say it describes the U.S. well, compared with a smaller majority (68%) of those under 50.

3. Elections in the U.S.: Priorities and performance

Large shares say it is very important that elections are free from tampering, no eligible voters are denied vote

As is the case with overall views of the political system, the public sees a range of objectives as important for U.S. elections. However, assessments of how well these goals are being achieved vary widely – and many evaluations are deeply divided along partisan lines.

Overwhelming majorities of Americans – including most Republicans and Democrats – say it is very important that elections are free from tampering (90% say this) and that no eligible voters are prevented from voting (83%).

Large majorities also say it is very important that voters are knowledgeable about candidates and issues (78%), the way congressional districts are determined is fair and reasonable (72%) and there is high voter turnout in presidential elections (70%).

And two-thirds (67%) say it is very important that no ineligible voters are permitted to vote, while 62% prioritize high turnout in local elections.

Nearly all Americans say each of these items is very or somewhat important. Very few – no more than about 10% in any case – say they are not too important or not at all important.

Only about half say U.S. congressional districts are drawn in a fair and reasonable way

Yet the public has mixed views on whether these goals are being fulfilled. Majorities say several describe elections in the United States very or somewhat well, but relatively few say they describe elections very well.

Roughly two-thirds think the statement “no eligible voters are prevented from voting” describes elections in the U.S. very (29%) or somewhat (36%) well; about a third say this describes U.S. elections not too well (21%) or not at all well (12%).

Similarly, about six-in-ten (61%) say “no ineligible voters are permitted to vote” describes elections very (29%) or somewhat (32%) well; 37% say this does not describe U.S. elections well.

Most also say there is high voter turnout in presidential elections (24% say this describes elections very well, 36% somewhat well), and that elections in the U.S. are free from tampering (19% very well, 39% somewhat well).

Opinions are more divided about whether congressional districts are fairly determined: 49% say fairly drawn congressional districts describes U.S. elections very or somewhat well; just as many (49%) say this describes U.S. elections not too or not at all well (49%).

And fewer than half say “there is high voter turnout in local elections” (41%) and “voters are knowledgeable about candidates and issues” (39%) describe elections well.

Most say it’s very important for voters to be knowledgeable; far fewer say they are knowledgeable

The mismatch between the public’s priorities for elections and its view of reality is most apparent in views of voters being knowledgeable. About three-quarters (78%) rate this as very important, but only half as many (39%) say this describes elections very or somewhat well.

And while 90% say it is very important that elections are free from tampering, a much smaller majority (57%) says this describes elections well – with just 19% saying it describes elections very well.

Partisans share goals for elections, with a few exceptions

Republicans more focused on preventing those not eligible from voting, Democrats on high voter turnout

Republicans and Democrats widely agree on the most important electoral components for the U.S. Nearly nine-in-ten across both parties say it is very important that elections are free from tampering: 91% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say this, as do 88% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Comparable majorities in both parties also say it’s very important that no eligiblevoters are prevented from voting (85% of Republicans, 83% of Democrats).

Partisans are deeply divided, however, over the importance of preventing ineligible voters from casting ballots. More than eight-in-ten Republicans (83%) cite this as very important, compared with 55% of Democrats (27% of Democrats say this is somewhat important).

More Democrats (76%) than Republicans (64%) view high turnout in presidential elections as very important, and Democrats are also more likely to prioritize having a fair process for determining congressional districts (76% of Democrats, 68% of Republicans).

Republicans, Democrats have starkly different perceptions of voting by eligible and ineligible voters

While there is broad agreement over the important aspects of U.S. elections, there are deep divisions when it comes to how they are actually being conducted today.

In particular, Republicans and Democrats have vastly different assessments of U.S. elections when it comes to perceptions of whether ineligible voters are permitted to vote, and whether eligible voters are prevented from voting.

A large majority of Republicans (80%) say “no eligible voters are prevented from voting” describes U.S. elections very or somewhat well. A much narrower majority of Democrats (56%) agree.

By contrast, when it comes to not allowing any ineligible voters to vote, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to think the U.S. is doing at least somewhat well. Roughly three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this (76%), compared with just 42% of Republicans and Republican leaners.

The divide in views of whether congressional districts are drawn fairly is nearly as wide. A 63% majority of Republicans say fair and reasonable determination of voting districts describes the U.S. at least somewhat well. By contrast, a majority of Democrats (58%) say this does not describe the U.S. well; 39% say it does.

And while nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) say “there is high voter turnout in presidential elections” describes elections well, only about half of Democrats (52%) view turnout as “high.” More Republicans also say turnout in local elections is high (48% vs. 36%).

Politically engaged Democrats highly critical of process for determining congressional districts

Politically engaged Democrats are most critical of how congressional districts are mapped

Politically engaged Democrats attach a great deal of importance to the issue of fairly drawn congressional districts. And they are decidedly skeptical about whether this goal is being achieved.

Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats who are highly politically engaged (87%) say it is very important that the way congressional districts are determined is fair and reasonable. Smaller shares of less engaged Democrats – and Republicans of differing levels of political engagement – say this is very important.

And just 29% of the most politically engaged Democrats give positive evaluations of whether districts are being determined fairly and reasonably. Larger shares of less politically engaged Democrats – including 51% of the least engaged – say this describes U.S. elections well. Among Republicans, majorities across all levels of political engagement say districts are being fairly determined.

Partisan gaps over ballot box access greater among politically engaged

In considering whether no ineligible voters are permitted to vote, Republicans and Republican leaners with high levels of engagement are most skeptical: Just about a third (34%) say the U.S. is doing at least somewhat well. By contrast, Republicans with low levels of political engagement are much more positive: A slim majority (54%) thinks this describes the U.S. at least somewhat well.

Among Democrats, the highly engaged overwhelmingly think the U.S. does at least somewhat well in this area (85%), and the partisan gap stands at 51 percentage points. A smaller majority of low-engagement Democrats (68%) think this describes the U.S. well; the gap among those with low levels of engagement is just 15 points.

Similarly, the partisan gap is wider among the highly engaged in views of whether eligible voters are prevented from voting. While Republicans across the board think the U.S. does well when it comes to ensuring eligible voters are not prevented from voting, highly engaged Democrats are somewhat less likely than those with lower levels of engagement to think this.

4. Democracy, the presidency and views of the parties

Divide over whether Trump has respect for country’s democratic institutions

The American public has doubts about Donald Trump’s level of respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions. Like all views of Trump, attitudes are deeply partisan; Republicans give the president positive marks in this regard, while Democrats are highly negative.

Overall, 54% say Trump has not too much (25%) or no respect at all (29%) for the nation’s democratic institutions and traditions; somewhat fewer (45%) say he has a great deal (23%) or a fair amount (22%) of respect for them. The share saying Trump has at least a fair amount of respect for the country’s democratic institutions is slightly higher than it was in February 2017, when just 40% took this view.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are confident in Trump’s respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions: About three-quarters (77%) say he has at least a fair amount of respect for them, including 45% who say he has a great deal of respect. There is a divide among Republicans on this question by ideology. Conservative Republicans (84%) are much more likely than moderates and liberals (64%) to say Trump respects the country’s democratic institutions; and conservative Republicans are about twice as likely as moderate and liberal Republicans to say Trump has a great deal of respect for the country’s democratic system (55% vs. 27%).

Democrats and Democratic leaners are highly critical of Trump’s regard for the nation’s democratic system. Just 16% think he has at least a fair amount of respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions; 51% say he has none at all, and another 32% say he has not too much. There also are ideological differences among Democrats on this question; liberals (60%) are more likely than moderates and conservatives (43%) to say Trump has no respect at all for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions.

Public sees risks in granting greater presidential powers

Majority says it would be too risky to give U.S. presidents more power

A large majority of Americans say it’s important for there to be a balance of power between the three branches of the federal government. Consistent with this view, most oppose the idea of strengthening the power of the executive branch. Just 21% say that many of the country’s problems could be dealt with more effectively if the president didn’t have to worry so much about Congress or the courts. About three-quarters (76%) say that it would be too risky to give U.S. presidents more power to deal directly with the country’s problems.

Public opposition to strengthening the powers of the presidency has held steady over the past few years. In two previous surveys – conducted in August 2016, during Barack Obama’s final year in office, and in February 2017 – similar shares of the public said it would be too risky to give U.S. presidents more power.

Republicans and Democrats oppose expanded presidential powers

Most Republicans and Democrats oppose expanding the powers of the presidency. However, in the current survey, opposition to this is somewhat higher among Democrats and Democratic leaners (83%) than among Republicans and Republicans leaners (70%). By contrast, in August 2016, when Obama was president, a greater share of Republicans (82%) than Democrats (66%) opposed granting the president expanded powers at the expense of Congress and the courts.

Nearly a third of those 65 and older are open to giving presidents more power

On the whole, younger adults are more cautious about expanding executive power than older adults.

Among those ages 18 to 29, 85% say it’s too risky to give presidents more power. By comparison, a smaller majority of those 65 and older say the same (62%).

This age dynamic exists within both parties. While partisans across age cohorts say it would be too risky to give presidents more power to deal directly with the country’s problems, Democrats and Republicans younger than 50 are more likely than their older counterparts to hold this view.

Most say the president has large impact on U.S. standing, national mood

Relatively few think who is president has a big impact on their personal life

Most Americans say the president has a big impact in areas such as national security and U.S. standing in the world, but relatively few say the occupant of the executive office makes a big difference in their personal lives.

Overall, 69% say that who is president makes a big difference on the standing of the U.S. in the world; most also say the president makes a big difference for the mood of the country (63%) and national security (61%). About half (53%) say that who is president makes a big difference for the economy.

By contrast, far fewer (34%) think who is president makes a big difference in their own personal lives; 39% say it makes some difference and a quarter say it makes no difference.

Many women, older adults say who is president makes big difference in life

Women are more likely than men to say who is president makes a big difference in their own personal lives. Four-in-ten women say this compared with about three-in-ten men (29%).

Young adults ages 18 to 29 are less likely than older adults to say that who is president makes a big difference for their own personal life. Just 24% of those 18 to 29 say this, compared with 34% of those ages 30 to 49, 37% of those 50 to 64 and 44% of those 65 and older.

Favorability ratings of the Republican and Democratic parties

Neither party viewed favorably by a majority of Americans

On balance, the public offers negative ratings of both the Republican and Democratic parties. By 55%-41% more take an unfavorable than favorable view of the Republican Party. Views of the Democratic Party are similar: 54% have an unfavorable view, compared with 42% who rate the party favorably.

Ratings of the Republican Party are now higher than they were for much of 2015 and 2016, prior to the election of Donald Trump. However, they are down from a recent high of 47% in January 2017, immediately after the election.

By contrast, views of the Democratic Party are about as low or lower than they were at any point during the run-up to the 2016 election. Favorable ratings of the Democratic Party reached 52% in October 2016 and were about that high in January 2017, before declining in the spring of that year.

Democratic leaners turn more negative in their views of the Democratic Party

Declining views of the Democratic Party are tied, in part, to more negative ratings among those who lean toward the Democratic Party but do not identify with it.

Overall, 53% of Democratic leaners hold a favorable view of the party, down from 73% who said this in January 2017. The current ratings of the party among Democratic leaners are as low as they have been at any point in Pew Research Center surveys conducted over the past two decades.

By contrast, about two-thirds (65%) of Republican leaners view the GOP favorably. These ratings are down somewhat from a post-election high, but remain far more positive than at most other points over the past several years.

There is no difference between how self-identifying Republicans and Democrats rate their own parties. Overall, 82% of Republicans and the same share of Democrats say they view their respective party favorably.

For the past several decades, members of both parties have expressed predominantly unfavorable views of the opposing party. But the intensity of these attitudes is much higher today than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

Overall, comparable majorities of Democrats and Democratic leaners (86%) and Republicans and Republican leaners (84%) say they hold unfavorable views of the opposing party. Among Republicans, 45% say they hold a very unfavorable view of the Democratic Party; a similar share of Democrats (43%) has a very unfavorable view of the GOP. In 1994, just 17% of Republicans and 16% of Democrats said they viewed the opposite party very unfavorably; and as recently as 2009, only about a third of both groups held intensely negative views of the other political party.

Large majorities of Democrats and Republicans view other party unfavorably; many take a very unfavorable view

Recent Pew Research Center surveys have found that antipathy toward the other party is a key driver of an individual’s own party identification. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats – as well as Republican and Democratic leaners – cite harm from the opposing party’s policies as a major reason for their own partisan orientation.

Nearly a quarter of public now holds an unfavorable view of both major parties

With the public holding relatively dim views of both major political parties, almost a quarter (24%) now have unfavorable views of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

The share with unfavorable views of both parties was just 6% back in 1994; it is now as high as it has ever been in Pew Research Center surveys dating to that year.

Just 11% of the public say they have a favorable view of both major parties – down from 32% in 1994.

Most Americans (60%) continue to view one party favorably and the other unfavorably. The share with this combination of views has stayed relatively steady over the past few decades as unfavorable views toward both parties have increased and favorable views of both parties have decreased.

Most of those with unfavorable views of both parties identify as independents (63%); Democratic-leaning independents make up a slightly larger share than Republican-leaning independents. A plurality (41%) describe themselves as moderate; 28% are conservative and 28% say they are liberal. Those who have an unfavorable opinion of both major parties also tend to be relatively young (59% are under age 50).

5. The Electoral College, Congress and representation

Continued partisan gap in views of Electoral College versus popular vote

A majority (55%) of Americans say the Constitution should be amended so that the candidate who wins the most votes in the presidential election would win, while 41% say the current system should be kept so that the candidate who wins the most Electoral College votes wins the election.

These views are little changed since a CNN/ORC survey conducted in the weeks following the 2016 presidential election in which Donald Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. But the public expresses somewhat less support for moving to a popular vote than it did in 2011 (62%).

The movement in overall opinion since 2011 has been driven by changes among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Seven years ago Republicans were more divided in their views (43% keep current system, 54% change to popular vote). But in the wake of the 2016 election, the share of Republicans supporting a constitutional amendment to move to a popular vote dropped to just 27%. Today, 32% of Republicans say the Electoral College should be eliminated, while 65% say the current system should be maintained.

Three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic leaners (75%) say the Constitution should be amended so the candidate with the most overall votes wins, little different than in prior surveys conducted over the past 18 years (the question was first asked shortly after the 2000 election, in which George W. Bush became president after winning a majority of votes in the Electoral College; Al Gore narrowly won the popular vote).

Majorities who live in ‘blue’ and ‘red’ states favor popular vote; those in ‘battleground’ states are divided

Public support for shifting to the popular vote to determine the winner of presidential elections is higher in states that are less politically competitive under the current system. About six-in-ten of those in both “red” (57%) and “blue” (60%) states (those that solidly vote either Republican or Democratic, respectively) support moving to a popular vote. By contrast, only about half (48%) of those living in battleground states say this.

In particular, Republicans in battleground states are significantly more likely than other Republicans to say the system should stay as it is: 75% of Republicans who live in battleground states say this, compared with about six-in-ten Republicans who reside in either red (58%) or blue (63%) states. Attitudes of Democrats in battleground states are no different from those of Democrats in less competitive states.

Should the allocation of Senate seats or the size of the House be changed?

Most oppose changing Senate’s allocation of seats, even when state population disparities are mentioned

Most Americans reject the idea of changing the way Senate seats are allocated. Public attitudes about this question of representation are only modestly different when respondents are presented with information about how the gap in population between the largest and smallest states has changed since the early days of the republic.

Overall, 75% say the current system of equal representation of states should be maintained and 24% say the Constitution should be amended to give states with larger populations more representation in the Senate.

When the question includes additional information about how relative population sizes have shifted over time (the wording: “When the first Congress met, the state with the largest population had about 10 times as many people as the state with the smallest population. Currently, the state with the largest population has about 66 times as many people as the state with the smallest population.”), opinion shifts modestly in the direction of support for changing the allocation of Senate seats. Still, just 29% of Americans say they favor changing Senate seat apportionment when the question includes this information, while about two-thirds (68%) say it should not be changed.

Democrats more likely than Republicans to favor allocating Senate seats by a state’s population

Majorities across all partisan and ideological groups say all states should continue to have two U.S. senators, regardless of population size (and in both versions of the question). But there is a partisan gap in these views.

When the question asks about the current structure of the Senate without additional information, 85% of Republicans and Republican leaners and 68% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the current system of equal representation of states should be maintained. About one-in-three Democrats (31%) and just 14% of Republicans think the Constitution should be amended so states with larger populations have more senators than smaller states.

Republicans’ views are no different between the versions of the question with and without additional historical information about the population distribution. Among Democrats, however, there is somewhat more support for amending the Constitution to change senatorial apportionment when the changing population distribution is made salient, though this remains a minority position among Democrats (39% support these changes in that case, compared with 31% in the version of the question without that information).

Relatively few favor expanding size of House, but providing historical context increases support

When asked about the number of representatives in the U.S. House relative to the number of people they represent, about half of Americans (51%) say the lower chamber’s size should remain unchanged, while 28% say it should be increased and 18% say it should be decreased.

The public’s views shift modestly in the direction of increasing the size of the House in a version of the question that provides additional historical context.  When the question notes  that there were both fewer members of the House when the first Congress met than there are today (65 then, 435 now) and that each representative then represented a smaller number of constituents (roughly 60,000 then, 700,000 now), 34% say its size should be increased (compared with 28% without the historical sizes). Still, a plurality (44%) say the size should remain the same even with this additional information. The share saying the size of Congress should be decreased also remains about the same (21%).

When provided with historical representation, Democratic support for expanding House edges higher

In the version of the question without additional historical context, 55% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the size of the U.S. House should remain the same, while the remainder are about evenly divided: 21% say the number of members should be increased and 22% say decreased. The view that the size should not change also is held by about half of Democrats and Democratic leaners (49%). But Democrats who think the House’s size should change are far more likely to say it should be increased than decreased (34% vs. 14%).

Republicans’ views are no different with the addition of information about the historical size of the House. However, the balance of Democratic opinion shifts somewhat when this information is provided. In this case, 44% of Democrats say the House’s size should be increased (up from 34% without the additional context), while a smaller share say the size should stay the same (39%, down from 49% without the additional context). There is no difference in the share of Democrats across the two conditions who say the House’s size should be decreased.

6. Quality and responsiveness of elected officials

Views of candidate quality much less positive for presidential elections than local contests

In general, Americans have low regard for elected officials. And when asked about candidates running for office in the last several elections, only about half (47%) say the quality of candidates overall has been good, with just 7% saying they have been “very good”; about as many (52%) take a negative view.

Yet the public makes clear distinctions in evaluations of candidate quality, depending on whether they are running for president, Congress or a local office.

Ratings of the field of presidential candidates in recent elections are similar to ratings of generic candidates for political office: 41% rate the quality of recent presidential candidates at least somewhat good (just 3% say very good), while 58% say they have generally been bad.

But the public offers more positive views of those running for offices closer to home: 64% say the quality of candidates running for Congress in the last several elections in their district has generally been at least somewhat good, while nearly three-quarters (73%) rate candidate quality in local elections (such as for mayor or county government) positively.

Across different types of elections, most say there is usually at least one candidate who shares their views

Across different types of elections, about six-in-ten Americans say that they “usually feel like there is at least one candidate who shares most of my views.”

When asked generally about candidates for political office, 63% of Americans say there is usually at least one candidate who shares their views. That figure does not vary much when they are asked about specific offices: 65% say at least one presidential candidate usually represents most of their views, and 63% say the same about congressional candidates and 62% about candidates for local political office.

Partisans have more positive views than leaners about the quality of candidates in recent elections

Overall, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say the quality of candidates running for president has been good in recent years (49% vs. 35%). Conversely, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to rate their recent slates of local candidates positively (77% vs. 69%). Partisans view their recent congressional candidates similarly (67% of Republicans and Republican leaners say they have been good, compared with 63% of Democrats and Democratic leaners).

Within both partisan coalitions, however, those who identify with the party are significantly more likely than those who do not (and instead “lean” to the party) to view the quality of recent candidates positively. This pattern is evident across presidential, congressional and local contests.

For example, while 77% of those who identify as Republicans say that the quality of candidates running for Congress in their district has been at least somewhat good in recent elections, just 53% of those who lean toward the Republican Party say the same. There is a similar gap between Democrats (74%) and Democratic leaners (48%).

Partisan identifiers also are more likely than independents to say that in these types of elections they usually feel that at least one candidate represents their views. Asked about candidates for political office generally, about seven-in-ten Republicans (71%) and Democrats (73%) say this; by comparison, 61% of Republican-leaning independents and 49% of Democratic-leaning independents say the same.

Evaluations of the congressional candidate field vary based on the degree to which partisans “fit” the partisan cast of their district. For instance, among Republicans and Republican leaners who live in districts that have voted for Republican congressional candidates by wide margins in recent elections, about eight-in-ten (78%) say the quality of candidates in their district is good. Among those who live in more politically mixed (“swing”) districts, 73% say this, as do just 50% of Republicans who live in overwhelmingly Democratic districts.

Republicans, Democrats who live in districts dominated by their party are more satisfied with the quality of candidates running for Congress

Among Democrats there is a similar, if less dramatic, pattern. About seven-in-ten (71%) living in heavily Democratic districts say the quality of candidates running in their districts is good, compared with 64% of Democrats who live in swing districts and 53% who live in predominantly Republican districts.

Nearly identical patterns are evident in reports of whether or not people think at least one candidate in congressional elections in their district shares their values.

Expectations about the responsiveness of elected officials

Most say it is unlikely their representative would help them address a problem if contacted

About six-in-ten Americans say that if they contacted their member of the U.S. House of Representatives with a problem it is either not very likely (40%) or not likely at all (21%) they would get help addressing it. Just 7% say their representative would be very likely to help, while 30% say this would be somewhat likely.

Overall, Republicans are somewhat more likely than Democrats to say that their congressional representative would be at least somewhat likely to help them address an issue (41% of Republicans vs. 35% of Democrats).

But these perceptions vary across districts. In both parties, those who live in districts represented by a member of their same party are more likely to anticipate that their member of Congress would help them with a problem. For instance, while 35% of Republicans living in districts represented by Democrats say they would expect assistance, that rises to 45% among Republicans living in districts with a GOP representative. Similarly, Democrats who live in districts represented by a Democrat are more likely than Democrats in districts represented by Republicans to say their congressional representative would respond if contacted (40% to 31%, respectively).

Overall, adults who are politically engaged are more likely than those who are less engaged to expect that their representative would address an issue if contacted. This pattern holds true controlling for both partisanship and the partisanship of the district’s representative.

What should happen when the majority and a governor’s supporters don’t agree?

Most say a governor should heed their state’s people – not political backers

Three-quarters of Americans (75%) say that when a new bill is supported by a majority of people in a state – but opposed by the governor’s supporters – the governor should follow the will of the majority and sign the legislation. And while there are no differences between Republicans and Democrats in these views when the governor’s party is not specified, partisans’ answers do differ when the partisanship of the governor (and the governor’s supporters) is mentioned.

Using a survey experiment in which subsets of the public were presented with and without partisan descriptions of the governor and the governor’s supporters, wide majorities in every condition of the experiment support the governor signing a bill that most of the people in the state support even though the governor’s own supporters (or co-partisans) oppose the bill. (See box below for full details of the experiment.)

Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say – in this hypothetical – that the governor should sign the bill, regardless of the partisanship assigned to the governor and the governor’s supporters. However, partisan support for going along with the majority view is substantially lower when the example provided results in their own party’s position being given less priority.

For example, when given no party reference, 75% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the governor should follow the will of the majority, but when told that the governor is also a Republican and that Republicans oppose the bill, a narrower majority (66%) of Republicans say that the governor should sign the bill.

A nearly identical pattern is seen among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents: 77% support signing in the generic case, compared with 68% when the governor and supporters are identified as Democrats.

Broad support for will of majority, but partisanship has an effect

But partisans differ in their response to the example of a governor of the opposing party. Presented with an example of a bill on the desk of a Republican governor that is opposed by Republicans but supported by the majority of the state, the same share of Democrats say the governor should follow the will of the majority as say this when not provided any cues about the party of the governor or the governor’s supporters (77% in both cases).

By contrast, when Republicans are presented with a hypothetical Democratic governor, with Democrats opposed to the bill, they are substantially more likely to say that the governor should follow the will of the majority of the state rather than the governor’s supporters (90% say this) than they do in either the generic condition (75%) or when the governor and governors’ supporters are Republicans (66%).

In both parties, older adults less likely to support will of majority over partisan goals

Among Republicans, the difference in the shares who say the governor should sign the legislation under different partisan conditions is particularly pronounced among older and conservative Republicans.

Older Republicans are less likely than younger Republicans to say the bill should be signed when the governor is a Republican and Republicans are in opposition (59% of those 50 and older say this, compared with 74% of those under 50). There is a similar-sized age gap in the case of a generic governor (81% vs. 69%). About nine-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners across all age groups say the bill should be signed by a Democratic governor, even though most Democrats oppose the legislation.

A similar pattern is evident by ideology: While 77% of moderate and liberal Republicans say a bill with majority statewide support should be signed even if most Republicans in the state oppose it, that falls to 61% among conservative Republicans. There is no ideological difference among Republicans when the governor and supporters are identified as Democrats.

Among Democrats, age differences are similar to those in the GOP: Older Democrats are somewhat less likely than younger Democrats to back the signing of a bill by a Democratic governor if Democrats oppose the legislation (62% of those 50 and older, compared with 72% of those under 50) and to support the bill’s signing in the case of a generic governor and supporters (69% vs. 83%). But about three-quarters in all age groups say this when the governor is identified as a Republican.

There are no significant ideological differences among Democrats in the shares who say the governor should sign the bill in either the Republican or Democratic conditions. However, liberal Democrats are more likely than conservative or moderate Democrats to say the bill should be signed when no partisan indicators are given (86% vs. 71%).

Only about two-in-ten say government is run for the benefit of all

Most continue to say government run by a few big interests

A large majority of Americans (76%) say the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves; fewer than a quarter (21%) say it is run for the benefit of all the people. Since the early 1970s, most Americans have generally said the government is run by a few big interests, and the share saying this is unchanged from 2015.

Most Republicans (71%) and Democrats (84%) say the government is run by a few big interests. More Democrats say this now than in 2015 (71% then vs. 84% now). Views among Republicans have moved in the opposite direction (81% then to 71% now).

Public continues to back limiting campaign spending

Widespread support for limiting money in campaigns; about two-thirds say such laws would be effective

A wide majority of Americans continue to believe that there should be limits on the amount of money political candidates can spend on campaigns: Roughly three-quarters (77%) feel that such limits are appropriate. A somewhat smaller majority (65%) think that new campaign finance laws could be effective in limiting the amount of money in political campaigns. These overall views are little changed from 2015.

While majorities of Americans in all age groups endorse limiting the amount of money in political campaigns, those older than 30 are substantially more likely than younger adults to hold this view (79% of those older than 30 say that there should be limits, compared with 68% of those under 30). Conversely, while majorities in all age groups are optimistic about how effective new campaign finance laws would be in limiting the role of money in politics, that sentiment is somewhat less widespread among those 65 or older (58% say this, compared with 65% or more among younger age groups).

Though Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support limiting the amount of money in political campaigns, wide majorities in both parties say there should be limits (85% of Democrats, 71% of Republicans). Republicans are substantially more skeptical than Democrats about the effectiveness of new laws. About half (54%) of Republicans say that new laws could be effective while 77% of Democrats say the same.

Views about the public’s influence on government

Younger adults less likely to say they can influence government, have a voice through the ballot box

Overall, most adults see voting as an avenue to influence the government: 61% say that “voting gives people like me some say about how government runs things.”

However, on a more general measure of political efficacy, the public is more divided: 52% say ordinary citizens can do a lot to influence government if they make an effort, while 47% say “there’s not much ordinary citizens can do to influence the government in Washington.”

On both measures, younger and less-educated adults are more skeptical about the impact of participation.

The view that voting gives people some say increases with age; while just 53% of adults under 30 say this, that compares with nearly three-quarters of those 65 and older (73%). This age gap is seen in both parties.

Similarly, those under 50 are less likely than their elders (ages 50 and older) to say ordinary citizens can influence government if they make an effort (48% vs. 56%).

Education is also associated with a sense of political efficacy: 77% of postgraduates say voting gives people some say, compared with two-thirds of those with a bachelor’s degree (67%) and 57% of those with less education.

Political engagement is highly correlated with attitudes about voting. Highly engaged adults are considerably more likely to see the value of participation and the potential of “ordinary citizens” to influence governmental policy.

In both parties, those who are more ideological – conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats – are also more likely to view voting as a way for them to have a voice.

7. Democratic debates and the stakes of politics

Women more likely than men to say they are ‘losing’ on important issues

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) now say that, when it comes to “the way things have been going in politics over the last few years on issues that matter” to them, their side has been losing more often than it has been winning. Just 29% feel they have generally been winning more often than losing on the issues that matter to them in politics.

The share of Americans who say they are losing more than winning has increased 8 percentage points since 2016 (from 59% to 67% today).

Women are now more likely than men to say that, on balance, they are losing (72% vs. 63%); in early 2016, slightly more men (62%) than women (57%) felt like their political side was losing.

Partisans’ views also have shifted since before the 2016 election: 78% of Democrats and Democratic leaners now say they are losing more often than winning, up from 49% two years ago. Today, Republicans and Republican leaners are about evenly split (53% say losing more often, 44% say winning). In 2016, 75% of Republicans said they felt they were losing on the issues that mattered to them.

Republicans now split over whether their side is losing or winning more often

In the current survey, those who identify with the GOP are more likely than those who lean toward the Republican Party to say their side has been winning more often than losing (51% vs. 36%). Two years ago, there were no significant differences in these views.

Among Democrats, equally large majorities of those who identify with the party and those who lean Democratic (78% each) say they are losing more often than winning in politics. In 2016, more Democratic identifiers (50%) than leaners (43%) said their side was winning more often.

Perceptions of the public’s political wisdom and ability

Fewer Republicans now say ordinary people would do better than officials

About half of the public (51%) says that ordinary Americans would not do a better job solving the country’s problems than elected officials, compared with slightly fewer (44%) who think they would do a better job. This marks a shift from 2015, when most (55%) said they thought ordinary Americans would do better than elected officials and just 39% said they could not do better.

This shift in views has been especially pronounced among Republicans and Republican leaners. Today, 43% of Republicans think ordinary Americans would do a better job than elected officials, down sharply from 62% who said this in 2015, during Barack Obama’s administration.

There has been little change in views among Democrats and Democratic leaners on this question: About as many are skeptical that ordinary Americans would do better than elected officials today (45%) as said this in 2015 (49%).

Older adults and those without a college degree have also become more skeptical about the public’s ability to do better than elected officials.

Republican confidence in public’s political wisdom up since 2016

The public has become less confident in the ability of ordinary Americans to outperform elected officials, but they have become somewhat more positive when it comes to assessments of the political wisdom of the American people.

Today, 56% say that they have not very much or no confidence at all in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions; 42% say they have a very great deal or good deal of confidence. While opinion is negative on balance, it is more positive than it was two years ago: In 2016, nearly two-thirds (64%) said they had not very much or no confidence in the public’s political wisdom.

Republicans and Republican leaners have driven this shift in overall views. In the current survey, 54% say they have a very great or good deal of confidence in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions. In the spring of 2016, just 35% said this. By contrast, views among Democrats and Democratic leaners have not changed over the last two years: Just 33% expressed confidence in the public’s political wisdom in 2016 and about the same percentage says this today (32%).

Majority of public says politics is not a struggle between right and wrong

Educational divide over whether politics is a struggle between right and wrong

Overall, 42% of Americans say they think about politics as a struggle between right and wrong, while a majority (57%) doesn’t think of politics in that way.

Just 20% of those with a postgraduate degree say they think about politics as a struggle between right and wrong, while 79% say they do not. Narrower majorities of those with bachelor’s degrees (62%) and those with some college experience (58%) also say they generally do not think about politics in these terms. In comparison, those with a high school education or less are divided: 51% say they think about politics in these terms, 45% say they do not.

Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say they see politics as a struggle between right and wrong. But partisan identifiers in both coalitions differ from those who say they lean toward (but do not identify with) the party. For instance, while 45% of Democratic identifiers say they think about politics as a struggle between right and wrong, just 32% of Democratic leaners say the same.

How clear are the solutions to the country’s issues?

Most say major issues facing the country don’t have ‘clear solutions’

Just over half of Americans see the major issues facing the country today as complicated: 54% say that most big issues don’t have clear solutions, while 44% say the solutions are clear. This sentiment is little changed in the overall public over the past few years, but there have been shifts in how both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats view the country’s problems.

Liberal Dems, conservative Reps shift on whether clear solutions exist for most big national issues

In years past, conservative Republicans and Republican leaners were more likely than either Democrats or moderates and liberals in the GOP coalition to say that there were clear solutions to most of the big issues facing the country. Today, liberal Democrats and Democratic leaners are somewhat more likely than those in other groups to say solutions are clear.

Last year, 47% of conservative Republicans and 35% of liberal Democrats said solutions to most of the country’s big problems were clear.

Today, half (50%) of liberal Democrats say this, compared with 43% of conservative Republicans. Within both parties, views among the less ideological wings of the parties have not shifted over the last three years.

Public split over people’s willingness to pay for government services

Americans are currently about evenly divided on the question of whether the public is willing to pay the taxes needed to provide the government services they expect (51%) or whether the public demands more from the government than they are willing to pay (46%). In 2015, Americans were slightly more likely to say the public usually demands more than it is willing to pay for (52%) than to say it was willing to pay for expected services.

As was the case in 2015, there is no partisan gap on this question. There also are no significant differences in these views across demographic groups today; this represents a change from 2015, when younger, more educated and higher-income people were more likely than others to say the public demanded more than it was willing to pay taxes for.

More say constitutional interpretation should address current meaning

A 55% majority of the public now says the U.S. Supreme Court should make its rulings based on what the Constitution “means in current times,” while 41% say the court should base its rulings on what the Constitution “meant as originally written.”

This reflects a shift in public opinion: In surveys dating back more than a decade (from 2005 to 2016), the public was roughly evenly divided in its views of how the Supreme Court should interpret the Constitution. When the question was last asked in October 2016, 46% said that the court should base its rulings on what the Constitution means in current times; the same share (46%) said rulings should be based on what the Constitution meant when it was originally written.

Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (78%) now say rulings should be based on the Constitution’s current meaning, higher than at any previous point and up 9 percentage points from 2016. Just three-in-ten Republicans (30%) currently say the same; this reflects an 11-point increase from the fall of 2016, but is little different from GOP views in 2010 and 2011.

Partisan, ideological divides on how Supreme Court should base its rulings

Conservative Republicans continue to overwhelmingly say the Constitution should be interpreted based on its original meaning (77%) rather than its meaning in current times (21%). But moderate and liberal Republicans and Republican leaners are more divided in their views: 50% say original meaning, 46% current times. There is a more modest ideological gap among Democrats, though liberal Democrats are more likely than conservatives and moderates to think the court should base its rulings on current meaning (88% vs. 70%).

There is a substantial age gap in these views: More than six-in-ten Americans younger than 50 (64%) say the high court should take current context into account when interpreting the Constitution. By comparison, only about half of those 50 and older (47%) say the same.

Although majorities of Republicans in all age groups say the Constitution should be interpreted as it was originally written, younger Republicans are somewhat less likely than older Republicans to hold this view (61% of Republicans ages 18 to 49 compared with 72% of those 50 and older).

Similarly, while wide majorities of Democrats of all ages say the Supreme Court should base its rulings on its view of the Constitution’s current meaning, older Democrats (70% of those 50 and older) are less likely than younger Democrats (86% of those 18 to 49) to say this.

8. The tone of political debate, compromise with political opponents

Most say personally insulting political opponents is ‘never fair game’

About two-thirds of Americans (68%) say that personally insulting political opponents is never fair game in politics, while 31% say insults are sometimes fair game.

Overall, there is a modest gender gap in these views, with women somewhat more likely than men (71% vs. 65%) to view personal insults as unacceptable. There are no significant differences in these views by age or across racial and ethnic groups.

As in the past, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are considerably more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say insults are never fair game. Three-quarters of Democrats (75%) now say this, compared with 59% of Republicans.

Current views are on par with those in the spring of 2016, but the share saying insults are not acceptable is higher than it was in the immediate weeks before the 2016 election: In October 2016, a narrower majority of voters (54%) said insulting opponents was never fair game in politics.

Partisan gap on ‘political correctness’ debate grows wider

Most Republicans say too many are ‘easily offended’ over others’ language

Overall, 55% of Americans currently say that “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use,” while 45% say that “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

Since 2016, there has been a 6-percentage-point rise in the share who say people should be more careful with language (from 39% to 45%). At that time, the balance of public opinion was more clearly tilted to the view that people are too easily offended (59% said this, while 39% said people should be more careful about language).

While roughly eight-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (81%) take the position that people are too easily offended by the language others use, about two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic leaners (65%) take the opposing view that people need to be more careful with language to avoid offenses.

Although this partisan divide is not new, it has widened since 2016. Republican attitudes are virtually unchanged over the past two years. But the share of Democrats now holding the view that people need to be more careful with language has increased 11 percentage points (up from 54% two years ago).

While the view that people should be more careful is held by majorities of Democrats in all ideological groups, it is particularly prevalent among liberals. Today, 72% of liberal Democrats and Democratic leaners take this position, compared with 59% of conservatives and moderates in the party. There are no significant differences in the views of Republicans by ideology.

Racial, gender divides over need to be more careful with language

As in 2016, there remain significant gaps in these opinions between men and women and between blacks and whites.

While a 61% majority of men say that too many people are easily offended these days over the language others use, women’s views are split: 50% say people should be more careful, 49% say too many people are easily offended.

However, the gender gap is concentrated among Democrats. While 72% of Democratic women say people need to be more careful about language to avoid offending others, a more modest majority (57%) of Democratic men say this. There are no significant differences in these views between Republican men and women.

Black people remain significantly more likely than either whites or Hispanics to hold the view that people need to be more careful about language to avoid offending those with different backgrounds. Today, 77% of African Americans say this, compared with 38% of whites and 44% of Hispanics.

Wide majority rejects bending the rules in politics

Growing majorities in both parties say it is important to respect rules

A majority of Americans (79%) say that in politics, “it is important to respect the rules, even if it makes it harder to get things done.” Just 19% say it is “sometimes necessary to bend the rules in order to get things done.”

The share saying it is important to respect the rules has grown – among Republicans and Democrats alike – since just prior to the 2016 presidential election. While Republicans were somewhat more likely than Democrats to say this in November 2016, there is now no partisan gap in these views: 79% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and 82% of Republicans and Republican leaners now say it’s important to respect political rules, even if it makes it harder to get things done.

Civic knowledge associated with rejecting ‘rule bending’ in politics

While there are no significant differences in these views across partisan or demographic groups, there are modest differences related to levels of civic knowledge.

Nearly nine-in-ten Americans with high levels of civic knowledge (88%) say it’s important to respect the rules even if that makes it harder to get things done, while just 10% believe that it is sometimes necessary to bend the rules. Among those with relatively low levels of civic knowledge, a narrower – though still substantial – majority (69%) says respect for the rules is important, while about three-in-ten (29%) say that bending the rules is sometimes acceptable in order to get things done. These differences are evident even when controlling for partisanship.

Democratic views shift on making compromises in politics

Long-standing partisan gap over views of compromise disappears

Roughly half of Americans say they prefer politicians who stick to their positions (53%), while slightly fewer say they like those who make compromises with people they disagree with (44%). This represents a substantial shift from July 2017, when 58% of the public said they preferred politicians who compromised compared with 39% who said they liked politicians who stick with their positions.

There is now no difference between Republicans and Democrats in their views of compromise. In six previous surveys conducted since 2011, Democrats were consistently more likely than Republicans to say they liked those who compromised. As recently as last July, 69% of Democrats said they preferred elected officials who made compromises; today just 46% say this. These views are little changed among Republicans and Republican leaners in recent years: Today, 44% say they like elected officials who make compromises, while 46% said this in July 2017.

In both parties, sizable education gap in views of politicians who compromise

There are substantial educational differences in views of compromise in politics. A majority of those with postgraduate degrees say they like elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with over those who stick to their positions (57% vs. 42%). Among those with bachelor’s degrees and those with some college experience, these views are roughly evenly divided. Among those with no college experience, most prefer politicians who stick to their positions: 63% say this, while just 36% say they prefer elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with.

This pattern is seen in both parties, with slight majorities of college graduates saying they prefer politicians who make compromises (54% in both parties) and the balance of opinion reversed among those without college degrees (58% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats without bachelor’s degrees say they prefer elected officials who stick to their positions).

9. The responsibilities of citizenship

Voting, paying taxes, following law top public’s list of good citizenship traits

When it comes to what it takes to be a good citizen, the public has a long list of traits and behaviors that it says are important. And there’s a fair amount of agreement across groups about what it takes to be a good citizen.

Still, there are differences when it comes to which aspects are considered veryimportant (as opposed to somewhat important), and points of emphasis differ by party identification as well as by age.

Overall, 91% say it is either very (74%) or somewhat (17%) important to vote in elections in order to be a good citizen; just 8% say this is not too or not at all important.

Large shares also say it is important to pay all the taxes you owe (92%) and to always follow the law (96%), including about seven-in-ten who say each is very important (71% and 69%, respectively).

For several other traits and behaviors, about nine-in-ten say they are at least somewhat important to good citizenship. However, the share saying each is very important varies significantly. For example, 89% say it’s important to serve jury duty if called, including 61% who say this is very important. While a comparable 90% say it’s important to follow what’s happening in government and politics as part of good citizenship, a smaller share (49%) says this very important.

Protesting government actions you think are wrong and knowing the Pledge of Allegiance are considered important parts of what it means to be a good citizen, though they rank somewhat lower on the public’s list. Displaying the American flag ranks last among the 11 items tested in the survey. Still, a majority says this is either a very (36%) or somewhat (26%) important part of what it means to be a good citizen.

Republicans and Democrats agree on many aspects of good citizenship

 

 

 

 

Republicans and Democrats largely agree on the importance of most responsibilities of citizenship.

About three-quarters of Republicans and Republican leaners (76%) and Democrats and Democratic leaners (75%) say it’s very important to vote in elections.

Similarly, comparable majorities of Republicans and Democrats say it’s very important to pay all the taxes you owe, serve jury duty if called, respect the opinions of those you disagree with and participate in the census. There also are no partisan divides over the importance of volunteering to help others and following what’s going on in government and politics.

However, Republicans (79%) are more likely than Democrats (61%) to say it’s very important to always follow the law to be a good citizen.

Knowing the Pledge of Allegiance ranks higher on Republicans’ list (71% say it’s very important) than Democrats’ (just 34% say it’s very important). In addition to placing greater importance on the Pledge of Allegiance, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say it is very important to display the American flag (50% vs. 25%).

By contrast, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to think it is very important to protest if government actions are believed to be wrong: About half of Democrats (52%) this is very important to what it means to be a good citizen, compared with just about a third (35%) of Republicans.

Partisans and ‘leaners’ differ over importance of aspects of citizenship

On many items, the views of independents that lean toward one of the two major parties diverge from those of self-identifying Republicans and Democrats. In general, partisan leaners tend to be less likely than straight Republicans and Democrats to view a range of responsibilities as important to what it means to be a good citizen.

Overall, 83% of Republicans say voting in elections is a very important aspect of being a good citizen, compared with a smaller majority of Republican leaners (67%). There is an even wider 28-point gap between the share of Democrats (86%) and Democratic leaners (58%) who say this is very important.

Similarly, roughly two-thirds of both Republicans (64%) and Democrats (68%) say participating in the U.S. census every 10 years is very important to being a good citizen; slightly fewer Republican leaners (55%) and Democratic leaners (53%) say the same.

This pattern is seen across other items as well: Those who identify with a party are more likely than independents who lean to a party to say it is very important to serve jury duty if called, pay all owed taxes and to follow what is happening in government.

Independents who lean toward a party are less likely than party identifiers to see voting, jury duty and census participation as ‘very important’ to good citizenship

While large shares of Republicans (96%) and Republican leaners (87%) say it is important to know the Pledge of Allegiance, Republican identifiers are somewhat more likely than leaners to say this is very important to good citizenship.

Large shares of Republican identifiers say knowing pledge, displaying flag are important to citizenship

By comparison, smaller majorities of Democrats (67%) and Democratic leaners (60%) say it’s important to know the pledge. Self-identifying Democrats (42%) are significantly more likely to say knowing the pledge is a very important part of good citizenship than Democratic leaners (24%).

There is a 22-point gap between the share of Republicans (90%) and Republican leaners (68%) who say displaying the American flag is at least somewhat important to being a good citizen. And 63% of Republicans call this very important, compared with 35% of Republican leaners. About half of Democrats (52%) think this is a very or somewhat important aspect of good citizenship; 43% of Democratic leaners say the same.

Republican leaners diverge from Republicans over importance of protesting if government is wrong

In contrast to the patterns seen on many items, Republican leaners (81%) are more likely than Republicans (66%) to say protesting government actions you think are wrong is an important part of being a good citizen. The views of Republican leaners place them closer to those of Democrats and Democratic leaners in terms of the overall importance they place on this aspect of citizenship.

Age differences in views of the responsibilities of citizenship

Young adults place less importance on many aspects of citizenship than older adults, especially when it comes to the share that describes a trait or behavior as very important for being a good citizen.

Majorities of adults across all ages say it is very important to vote in elections in order to be a good citizen. Still, a smaller majority of those under 30 say this (56%), compared with larger shares of those ages 30 to 49 (72%), 50 to 64 (76%) and 65 and older (92%).

And while fully 81% of those 65 and older say that to be a good citizen it is very important to serve jury duty if called, just about half (47%) of those under 30 say the same.

On other items, the pattern is similar. Young adults are less likely to call paying the taxes you owe, following the law, participating in the census, and following government and politics very important. Still, large majorities of young adults say each of these is at least somewhat important to being a good citizen.

Older adults emphasize importance of voting, jury duty for good citizenship

There is no meaningful age gap in views of the importance of protesting government actions you think are wrong. Overall, 85% of those ages 18 to 29 say this is either very (45%) or somewhat (40%) important to being a good citizen. Views among those ages 65 and older are similar (50% very important, 36% somewhat important).

Few young adults say knowing pledge or displaying American flag are very important to good citizenship

Displaying the American flag and knowing the Pledge of Allegiance do not rank particularly highly for young adults on their list of important characteristics for good citizenship. Among those ages 18 to 29, 63% say it is important to know the Pledge of Allegiance (38% very important) and 53% say it is important to display the American flag (19% very important). These items do not top the list of older adults either, though those 65 and older are more likely than the youngest adults to say both are important parts of being a good citizen.

10. Political engagement, knowledge and the midterms

More engage with politics digitally than by volunteering or attending rallies

Many Americans participate in politics, either by volunteering for or donating to campaigns, attending protests or meetings, contacting officials or expressing their views on social media. Overall, a large majority (67%) reports having engaged in at least one of these activities in the past five years; nearly half (46%) say they have done so in the past year alone.

About four-in-ten Americans (42%) say they have publicly expressed support for a political campaign on social media in the past five years, and 29% say they have done this in the past year.

Nearly as many (40%) say they have contacted an elected official in the past five years, while 23% have done so in the past year. Smaller shares – slightly less than a third – report making donations to campaigns (29%), attending local government meetings (29%) or attending political rallies or events (28%) in the past five years. And 16% say they have worked or volunteered for a political campaign in the past five years (5% in the past year).

Demographic and educational differences in political engagement

Overall, older, more educated and more ideological Americans tend to report having engaged in more forms of political activism than younger, less educated and less ideological adults. But there are some notable exceptions to these patterns.

Liberal Democrats are far more likely than those in other ideological groups to say they have attended a political rally in the past year

Contacting political officials and donating to political campaigns are activities that are dominated by older and better educated people. About four-in-ten of those with at least a four-year college degree (43%) say they have contributed money to a political candidate or a group working to elect a candidate in the past five years, about double the share of those who have not completed college (22%). The gap in political donations is about as wide between adults 65 and older and those younger than 30.

By contrast, young adults are more likely than the oldest adults to have attended a political rally, speech or campaign event. Those under 30 are also about as likely as older adults to have publicly expressed support for a political campaign on social media in the last year (and more likely to have done so in the last five years). While those who have never attended college are less active politically on social media than those who have attended college, the differences on this measure of engagement are fairly modest.

Overall, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are about as likely to engage in most political activities as Republicans and Republican leaners. But in some cases, such as donating to campaigns and contacting elected officials, the parties are divided along ideological lines. Liberal Democrats are more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to engage in both activities; similarly, conservative Republicans are more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to give money to candidates and contact elected officials.

And liberal Democrats stand out from other ideological groups in their attendance at political rallies or events. About one-in-five liberal Democrats (19%) say they have attended a political rally, event or speech in the past year, more than double the shares of conservative and moderate Democrats (8%), conservative Republicans (8%) or moderate and liberal Republicans (7%).

Campaign contributions: Most are less than $250

About half of donors say they gave less than $100

Most who report contributing money to a candidate or campaign in the past year say their contributions added up to less than $250. About half (53%) say they gave less than $100 and 31% say they gave $100 to $250. Only 15% say they gave more than $250.

Republicans and Democrats who have made donations report contributing similar amounts: 53% of Republicans and Republican leaners and 55% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say they gave less than $100.

People with higher incomes who donate to political campaigns are more likely to say they gave in greater amounts than those with lower incomes. More than a quarter (27%) of those with family incomes of more than $100,000 who have made a political contribution in the past year have donated more than $250, which is a much larger share than contributors in lower income categories.

About half of Americans talk about politics at least weekly

Those who talk about politics most often are older, better educated

About half of the public (51%) say they discuss politics with others at least a few times a week, including 18% who say they have discussions touching on politics nearly every day. A third say they have them a few times a week. Those who talk politics less regularly are about evenly split between having these discussions a few times a month (23%) or less often (26%).

As with many forms of political participation and activism, those who talk about politics more frequently are older and better educated.

Nearly two-thirds of those older than 65 (63%) say they have these discussions at least weekly, and slightly more than half of those ages 50 to 64 say the same (54%). Just 45% of those 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 say they talk about politics with others at least weekly.

More educated Americans report talking about politics more as well. Two-thirds of those who have a postgraduate degree (66%) say they talk politics at least weekly, as do nearly six-in-ten college graduates (57%). Those with some college experience talk less about politics (51%) than those holding a college degree, but they are more likely than those with a high school degree or less (43%) to have weekly conversations on politics.

Similar shares of Republicans and Republican leaners (51%) and Democrats and Democratic leaners (53%) report discussing politics with others at least weekly. Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats talk about politics more regularly than others within their parties. Six-in-ten conservative Republicans say they talk politics at least a few times a week, compared with 37% of moderate and liberal Republicans. Overall, 63% of liberal Democrats also say they discuss politics at least weekly; 45% of conservative and moderate Democrats say the same.

Most voters say partisan control of Congress ‘really matters’

Wide age differences on importance of partisan control of Congress in 2018

With months to go before the 2018 midterm election, most voters say it “really matters” which party wins control of Congress. Given a four-point scale on the importance of partisan control of Congress, a majority of registered voters (65%) place themselves at the top of the scale – meaning it really matters to them which party gains control.

There are substantial age differences in these opinions. More than eight-in-ten voters 65 and older (83%) say partisan control really matters as do 67% of those 50 to 64. That compares with 57% of those 30 to 49 and only about half (48%) of registered voters under 30.

An overwhelming majority of voters with postgraduate degrees (80%) say control of Congress really matters, compared with 66% of those with a college degree, 64% of those with some college experience and 59% of those with no more than a high school education.

Republicans (65%) and Democrats (67%) are about equally likely to say that it really matters who controls Congress. Three-quarters of conservative Republicans say this compared to half of moderate and liberal Republicans. Similarly, 77% of liberal Democrats say it really matters versus 56% of conservatives and moderates in the party.

There are similar patterns when it comes to the share of registered voters who say they will definitely vote in the primary elections for Congress this year. Older voters are more likely than younger voters to say they will definitely cast a ballot in the primaries. Voters with no more than a high school education are much less likely than those with at least some college experience to say they will definitely vote. And conservative Republicans (69%) and liberal Democrats (67%) are more committed to voting in the primaries than moderate and liberal Republicans (51%) and conservative and moderate Democrats (53%).

The public’s civic and political knowledge

Most know free speech granted by First Amendment, but far fewer are familiar with Senate filibuster rule

Public knowledge on civic and political questions varies widely by issue. Large majorities are familiar with the First Amendment and the role of the Electoral College, but the public struggles when asked about other topics such as the filibuster and tie-breaking procedures in the Senate. (Take the civics knowledge quiz.)

A majority of Americans (86%) correctly identify free speech as a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. On another constitutional question, about three-quarters (76%) of the public are able to identify the Electoral College as the assembly that formally elects the president.

When it comes to two questions about the current political dynamics in Washington, 83% know that the Republican Party holds a majority in the Senate and about the same share (82%) knows that the GOP also controls the House of Representatives. When taken together, 75% of the public can correctly name the majority party in both the House and Senate.

The public does less well on other questions about the structure of American government. Overall, 56% know that the number of terms a president can serve is determined by the 22nd Amendment; 54% can correctly identify the vice president as the person who casts the tie-breaking vote in a deadlocked Senate.

Fewer than half (41%) are aware that 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster in the U.S. Senate, the lowest level of public knowledge on any of the seven questions included in the survey

Partisans do equally well on questions about civic and political knowledge

Republicans and Democrats perform about equally well on the civic and political knowledge questions included in the survey. For example, nearly identical shares of Republicans and Republican leaners (87%) and Democrats and Democratic leaners (86%) know that the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech.

There are no significant divides between Republicans and Democrats on most questions and 4 percentage points is the most that separates the two groups on any single item (80% of Republicans can correctly identify the Electoral College, compared with 76% of Democrats).

Demographic differences in levels of civic knowledge

A three-point index based on responses to questions about the Electoral College, filibuster, Senate tie-break procedure and presidential term limits shows overarching demographic patterns in civic knowledge. Overall, 23% of the public scores high on this scale of civic knowledge, while 44% have a medium level of knowledge and 32% have a low level.

There are clear demographic differences in civic knowledge with older and better educated adults performing better than younger and less-well educated adults.

Among those 65 and older, 33% have high levels of civic knowledge, while another 48% have medium levels. Civic knowledge is lower among younger adults and it is particularly low among those ages 18 to 29, just 14% of whom score high on the index.

Civic knowledge varies across levels of education: 45% of those with a postgraduate degree have a high level of civic knowledge compared with 34% of college graduates, 23% of those with some college experience and just 12% of those with no college experience. Nearly half (49%) of those with no college experience score low on the index of civic knowledge.

While there are no major differences between Republicans and Democrats in responses, there are significant divides by ideology within both parties. Conservative Republicans are more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to score high on the index (30% vs. 17%). Among Democrats, liberals are more likely to be in the top tier of civic knowledge than moderates and conservatives (30% vs. 19%).


Originally published by Pew Research Center, reprinted with permission for non-commercial, educational purposes.

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