American Teenagers Are Suspicious of American Democracy
American Teenagers Are Suspicious of American Democracy

American Teenagers Are Suspicious of American Democracy

The rise in partisan polarization in America has made it rare for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground on an issue.

However, data from the new January 2021 American Perspectives Survey (APS) reveals an important area where Democrats and Republicans agree. Seventy percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans agree that American democracy serves only the interests of the rich and powerful. This feeling is not surprising when the trend of populism begins to compete on both the left and the right.

On the democratic side, Senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren advocated increasing taxes on politicians, billionaires, and large corporations. Similarly, some very conservative Republicans, such as Senators Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio, reflect the growing economic populism that has attracted many on the right with their support for Wall Street and laws that restrict the power of corporations.

The view that American democracy serves only the interests of the rich and powerful is strongly felt among young partisans aged 18-29. About eight out of 10 young Democrats (77 percent) and Republicans (79 percent) agreed that democracy works only for the benefit of the rich. . Older partisans (65 years and over) agree, but with significantly smaller margins. Sixty-two percent of older Democrats and 59 percent of former Republicans say that democracy serves only the rich and powerful.

Younger Democrats and Republicans Both Agree Democracy Serves the Rich

Percentage who say they completely or somewhat agree with the statement, “These days American democracy only serves the interests of the wealthy and powerful” .

Source: American Perspectives Survey, January 2021
Note: Figure may not add to 100 percent due to rounding. Survey of US adults [N=2,016]

It is not surprising that young Americans are more skeptical about the benefits of American democracy. Young people have aged in a period of deep political polarization and intense partisan anger. Surveys conducted over the years show that young people are deeply concerned about the cost of higher education, racial inequality, and climate change. And so far the government has not been able to resolve these concerns.

In a Harvard Youth Survey last spring, only 8 percent said the government is working as it should. While young people were more pessimistic about the state of the government, some more said they would rather reform American institutions than completely change them. Fifty-one percent of the youth said they had problems with the government, but these can be resolved by reorganizing, not changing the institutions we already have. A sizable minority of young adults (39 percent) expressed their support for moving away from existing institutions and creating new ones in their place.

Not only do young Americans express more skepticism about American democracy, their suspicions extend to their feelings of being Americans and whether the United States is a moral example in the world. Young Americans are far less proud of their nationality than older Americans. In the APS data, older people are twice as likely to say they are extremely proud of being Americans than young adults (23 percent versus 55 percent). Older Americans believe in American no exception more than their younger adults. Seventy percent of older Americans agree, “The world would be much better off if more countries adopted American values and lifestyle.” Only 43 percent of young adults agree.

Despite concerns raised in recent polls about the functioning of the US democratic system, Americans say it is still the preferred form of government. A Voter Working Group survey conducted in late 2019 analyzed attitudes on democracy and authoritarianism in America and found that 77 percent said democracy was preferred over another type of government, and 87 percent said a democratic political system was a good way of governing.

There is no simple solution to addressing years of public distrust and institutional unresponsiveness. But if elected leaders want to instill more confidence in the democratic system, a good starting point would be to address the most pressing public health issue in a generation: COVID-19. If federal and state governments can effectively administer the COVID-19 vaccine and provide the economic support that Americans and businesses need, the government will go a long way in demonstrating that democratic governance institutions can work even if the results are cumbersome and the results flawed. .