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Poll: Survey says most Americans believe democracy is the ‘best system,’ but fewer young people feel the same way

Most Americans think democracy is the best government system, despite its problems. However, polling indicates that fewer younger voters feel the same way.

The majority of Americans think that despite its flaws, democracy is the best form of government. However, recent polling indicates that a much smaller proportion of young voters share this view.

A national survey conducted by Florida Atlantic University in the middle of March discovered that 73% of voters agree with the statement, “Democracy may have problems, but it is the best system of government,” with 50% strongly agreeing and only 13% disagreeing.

On the other hand, the youngest group of voters, aged 18 to 35, had a different perspective.

Just over half of them, 53%, agreed that democracy is the best system of government. Only 15% strongly agreed, while 25% disagreed.

This reflects a significant contrast, with a pro-democracy advantage of 60 percentage points among all voters, in comparison to just 28 points among younger voters.

Kevin Wagner, a political scientist at FAU specializing in public opinion polling, commented that these findings warrant further investigation and raise concerns.

The FAU poll also highlighted substantial differences in the views of the youngest and oldest groups of voters.

Among voters aged 65 and older, 89% agree with the pro-democracy statement (including 73% who strongly agree), while a mere 6% disagree. This represents an 83-point pro-democracy advantage.

“The sharp contrast between younger and older voters is very noticeable,” noted Wagner, suggesting that the skepticism among younger voters towards the democratic system merits deeper reflection on the reasons behind their lack of faith in the system and the process.

Wagner emphasized that what stands out to him from the poll results is the attitudes of younger voters: “If that’s not worrying, we’re not paying attention.”

The youngest voters were also substantially more likely to express uncertainty when asked about their agreement with the statement that democracy is the best system of government.

14% of all voters indicated that they neither agreed nor disagreed.

This proportion was higher among those aged 18-34, with 25% expressing uncertainty, while only 4% of those aged 65 and older were unsure.

Political discrepancies

The poll results also unveiled disparities in responses based on political inclinations.

Individuals intending to vote for former President Donald Trump, the presumed Republican candidate, in November were 22 percentage points less likely to agree that democracy is the best system of government, in comparison to those planning to vote for President Joe Biden.

85% of Biden voters agreed with the statement, 6% disagreed, and 10% were uncertain.

Among Trump supporters, 63% agreed, 18% disagreed, and 19% were indecisive.

This translates to a 79-point pro-democracy advantage among Biden supporters and a 44-point advantage among Trump supporters.

When examining the question based on the party affiliation of those surveyed, rather than those who have chosen between Biden and Trump, the differences are not as marked.

Among Democrats: 79% agreed, 8% disagreed, and 13% were uncertain.

Among Republicans: 69% agreed, 17% disagreed, and 13% were undecided.

Among independents: 67% agreed, 15% disagreed, and 19% were unsure.

Wagner stated that more Republicans than Democrats disagree, possibly because of Trump, who has indicated that he feels the system is unfair, a sentiment that is reflected in the Republican vote.

Income, gender

There were some other demographic variances, but they were not nearly as significant as the contrast between the youngest and oldest voters or among Biden and Trump voters.

Individuals with higher incomes were more likely to express agreement with democracy being the best system compared to those who earn less.

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

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

The difference in perspective based on earnings is not surprising, according to Wagner: “If you’re wealthy, it’s pretty easy to say the system is working for you.”

Polls frequently show divergences in perspectives between men and women. However, the FAU poll did not find substantial differences regarding the democracy question.

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

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

How well it works

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

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

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

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

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

And 15% of all voters mentioned they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. Among those ages 18-34, 25%; 65 and older, 11%; Biden voters, 14%; and Trump voters, 16%.

Takeaways

Overall, Wagner observed, there is still widespread support for democracy.

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

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

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

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

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

Fine print

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

The study sent text messages to contact registered voters who clicked on a link to do the survey online and used automated phone calls to contact other voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the complete survey of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. The margin of error for smaller groups, like Republicans or Democrats, or men and women, is higher because the sample sizes are smaller.

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