New Public Agenda Report: Americans Across the Political Spectrum Feel Alienated Because They Don’t Think Their Voices Matter – But A Few Key Changes Could Deepen Their Involvement with the Political Process

October 27, 2022

Nearly one-third of the country is politically alienated
Despite frustrations, 71% of politically alienated Americans are planning to vote in the upcoming midterms

Half of all Americans think our democracy is in crisis, a 14% increase from 2021

Nearly half of Independents see extremism as a serious problem in both the Democratic and Republican parties

Americans say giving ordinary people more of a voice; politicians paying attention to voters’ opinions; term limits in Congress; and more politicians working together to get things done despite their political differences would all get them more involved in the political process

October 27, 2022  –  Nearly one-third of Americans can be described as politically alienated, according to Public Agenda’s inaugural Political Alienation Barometer, an in-depth look at the Americans who feel alienated from politics and ignored by politicians.

FULL REPORT HERE

The report features findings from two national surveys of a total of 2,017 U.S. adults fielded August 25-29, 2022 and September 9-12, 2022. The report explores sentiment about the state of our democracy, plans to vote in the upcoming midterms, and perceptions of political extremism.  It identifies reforms that alienated Americans and the general public say could boost political participation.

“Our research shows that the dominant media focus on polarization captures just one piece of the story,” said Andrew Seligsohn, President of Public Agenda. “Alienated Americans across the political spectrum are united in feeling their voices do not matter, and they want to see real changes in the structures and processes of our democracy. Our research also shows that Americans increasingly sense that our democracy is in crisis, so the time to focus on these substantive changes is now. Fortunately, the report indicates tremendous public openness to changes that will magnify public voice and shake up the calcified structures that members of the public see as disconnected from their lives.”

Key Highlights:

Nearly one in three Americans is politically alienated: To measure alienation, the survey asked Americans how much they agree or disagree with three questions about trust in politicians and about external and internal political efficacy, adapted from research on the British electorate. Respondents are characterized as politically alienated if they answered affirmatively to all three. Twenty-nine percent of Americans are politically alienated, including 34% of Republicans, 29% of Independents, and 25% of Democrats.

Despite frustrations, most alienated people are planning to vote in the upcoming midterms: Seventy-one percent of Americans who are politically alienated say they definitely plan to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, indicating that, despite their alienation, they are still interested in the political process to some degree. About as many non-alienated Americans (67%) also say they plan to vote in the midterms.

A growing number of Americans—including an especially high proportion of alienated Americans—think our democracy is in crisis and want structural reforms: Half of Americans think our democracy is in crisis, up 14 percentage points from 2021. Another 44% of Americans say our democracy is facing serious challenges. Six percent of Americans say it is doing well.

  • About two-thirds (63%) of politically alienated Americans say that our democracy is in crisis, compared to only 31% of the non-alienated.
  • Calls for structural reforms to the nation’s government grow: 56% of Americans say the design and structure of our nation’s government needs to change no matter who is elected to office, up from only 40% in 2019.
  • Substantially more politically alienated Americans (71%) believe the design and structure of our nation’s government needs significant change no matter whom we elect to represent us, compared to 48% of the non-alienated.
Chart 1 Democracy In Crisis-300dpi
Chart 2 Agreement Serious-300dpi

Politically alienated Americans view the nation's problems as more serious than non-alienated Americans: Most Americans (66%) say that politicians blocking the other party rather than getting anything done is a serious problem. Similar shares of Americans say that government corruption (62%), negativity, bias, and misinformation on social media (62%), and government being controlled by corporations and the wealthy (60%) are serious problems as well. 

  • In every instance, Americans who are politically alienated rate each of these problems as more serious than non-alienated people, often by large margins. 
    • For example, 75% of politically alienated Americans think it is a serious problem that politicians are more interested in blocking the other party rather than getting things done. Only 35% of non-alienated Americans think this is a serious problem. 

Independents – especially alienated Independents – are equally concerned about extremism in the Democratic and Republican Parties: About half of Independents (49%) see extremism as a serious problem in the Republican party. And nearly as many (46%) see extremism as a problem in the Democratic party. 

  • Even more alienated Independents see extremism in the two major parties as a problem: 60% see it as a problem in the Republican party and 60% see it as a problem in the Democratic party.  
  • Overall, however, all Americans view Republican extremism as a serious problem at a higher rate (50%) than Democratic extremism (37%) 
Chart 3 Perceptions of Extremism 300dpi
Chart 4 Involved in Process 300dpi

Americans overall say that giving ordinary people more of a voice and politicians paying attention to voters’ opinions, term limits in Congress, and more politicians working together to get things done despite their political differences would all get them more involved in the political process. Politically alienated Americans rated every approach that the survey asked about as even more likely to get them involved in the political process. For example:

  •  45% of the politically alienated said they would get a great deal more involved if there were term limits for members of Congress. 
  •  42% would get a great deal more involved if ordinary people had more of an influence on government decisions 
    •  42% would get a great deal more involved if more politicians listened to and acted on voters' opinions 
  • While many of these rates are similar between alienated Democrats and alienated Republicans, they differ in response for voting procedure reforms like making voting easier (50% to 21%) and automatic voter registration (44% to 18%), as well as election security reforms (17% to 45%)

The above findings are only a portion of the overall data. To read the full report, please visit here. Any references to the survey must be credited and linked back to Public Agenda.

Questions or requests can be directed to press@publicagenda.org. 

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About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a research-to-action nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining a stronger democracy. Through research, public engagement, and communications, we amplify public voice in institutional and government decision-making. The organization was founded in 1975 by the social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Dan Yankelovich and former secretary of state Cyrus Vance.

 

Methodology in Brief

Findings are from two national surveys of adult Americans ages 18 and older. Both surveys were administered in English, online and by telephone. The survey of 1,003 Americans was conducted from August 25 to August 29, 2022 and has a margin of sampling error of +/- 4.35 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The survey of 1,014 Americans was conducted from September 9 to September 12, 2022 and has a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.97 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Margins of error may be higher for subgroups. Both surveys were fielded by NORC. 

This research was solely supported by Public Agenda. When referencing this report, please cite Public Agenda. For a complete methodology and topline with full question wording, email research@publicagenda.org or click here.