Americans are mostly in agreement about the things that are most important to our democracy. The bad news is: They’re also mostly in agreement that the country is falling far short of those ideals.
An extensive new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that while huge majorities of Americans say that it’s very important for the United States that the rights and freedoms of all people are respected (84 percent), that elected officials face serious consequences for misconduct (83 percent) and that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed (82 percent), far fewer say that those tenets of democracy are a reality in America.
Overall, just 30 percent say elected officials are punished for bad behavior, and only about half believe all Americans are afforded equal respect and opportunities.
And only about a third of Americans or fewer say that government policies reflect the views of most Americans (36 percent), that people agree on basic facts even if they disagree on politics (34 percent), that government is open and transparent (30 percent), that campaign contributions don’t unduly influence politics (26 percent) and that the two parties can work together on issues facing the country (19 percent).
That pessimism is also reflected in how Americans view their elected officials overall. Just a quarter of Americans say they have a great deal (3 percent) or a fair amount of confidence (22 percent) in elected officials to act in the best interest of the public.
Among Republicans, confidence in elected officials has increased since the election of Donald Trump, while confidence has sunk among Democrats in the same period of time. In 2016, 32 percent of Democrats expressed confidence in elected officials, but just 17 percent say the same now. In the last two years, the percentage of Republicans expressing confidence in elected officials has risen from 22 percent to 36 percent.
Americans do mostly agree on the major responsibilities of a good citizen. Three-quarters (74 percent) say it is very important to vote in elections, and majorities cite paying taxes (71 percent), following the law (69 percent) and serving on jury duty (61 percent) as very important to being a citizen.
But they also still don’t have too much faith in the political wisdom of the voting populace at large. Fifty-six percent say they have little or no confidence at all in the American people's ability to make political decisions. That’s actually down from 2016, when 64 percent said the same.