How Americans view the “Deep State”

October 31, 2019, 4:00 PM GMT+0

President Donald Trump claims the “Deep State” is trying to overthrow him. But what is the Deep State? Only half the public in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll say they have heard of it (51%), with recognition of it somewhat higher among Republicans (57%) than Democrats (50%) or Independents (47%).

Nearly all those Republicans who have heard of the Deep State believe it is trying to overthrow the President, but the meaning of the term may be lost on some of those who claim to have heard of it.

For example, about one in four Republicans who had heard of the “Deep State" were unable to give any answer when asked to describe what the “Deep State” was. A few mentioned actual – mostly Southern – states.

For one in ten Republicans, the “Deep State” is specifically the Democrats. Several Republicans mentioned that Democrats had been in power for many years, and so remain in control of the bureaucracy. And in the eight years before the Trump Presidency, a Democrat, Barack Obama, had been President. However, since 2000, control of the Presidency has been essentially evenly divided between the parties: Democrats have held the office for nine years, Republicans 11. Between 1981 and today, Republicans have been President for 24 years, Democrats 16.

Most Republicans with an answer, however, include one or more of the following words when they describe the “Deep State”: “bureaucracy,” “corruption,” “entrenched and/or “unelected.” A few go even further, calling those who are part of the “Deep State” “traitors.” Many mentioned that the “Deep State” intends to bring down President Trump or bring Democrats back. Some mentioned all these things.

One Republican, a 63-year old Southern man with a post-graduate education, defined the “Deep State” this way: “Elements within the U.S. government, especially in the security and intelligence communities, opposed to Republican policymakers in general and President Trump in particular.” However, this respondent isn’t sure the Deep State is trying to overthrow the President.

One 45-year old male Trump voter wrote: “Lifelong overpaid people in federal agencies and political positions that are serving their own interest and the interest of a liberal agenda to adversely affect President Trump.”

A 62-year old said they were “all guilty of treason,” while an 81-year old described those in the Deep State (which included “entrenched former politicians, bureaucrats, intelligence powers, law enforcement holdovers”) as “conducting seditious activities.”

The view of an unelected bureaucracy puts some Republicans in apparent opposition to the “civil service” established in the late nineteenth century in order to avoid political interference and corruption in the federal bureaucracy. To many of them, the civil service no longer does this.

Unlike the GOP, hardly any of whom regard the “Deep State” as a conspiracy theory, lots of Democrats say that is exactly what it is, as it is a dominant answer when they are asked to describe the term. Like Republicans, many Democrats aren’t sure what exactly the “Deep State is, and, like a few Republicans, a few name Southern states. But as many Democrats explicitly say it is a conspiracy theory as attempt to give a definition of the “Deep State.”

For example, this 71-year-old Democratic woman, a liberal Elizabeth Warren supporter, wrote: “A false tale of elites, intellectuals, and liberals, operating in a secret society trying to overthrow the government. It is a hoax concocted to scare uneducated and fearful civilians.”

Another Democratic woman, one still considering more than half a dozen of the Democratic contenders, writes: “I think it is simply a way to target career employees and replace them with partisans or eliminate positions and hollow out the government.”

Unlike Republicans, only one in ten Democrats (10%) who have heard of the “Deep State” think it is trying to overthrow President Trump. Some of those Democrats might approve of that happening, however, most Democrats favor impeachment. Among Republicans who have heard of the term “Deep State,” 83 percent believe it is trying to undermine Trump.

Related: On impeachment, the President’s party remains intensely loyal

Read the full toplines and tables results from this week’s Economist/YouGov poll here.

Image: Getty