Americans expect that dark days for the country are coming

December 17, 2020, 8:00 PM GMT+0

America may be in for dark days, and not just the usual darkness of mid-winter. As next week brings the shortest day of the year, the mood in the country is dark too. Fewer Americans in the Economist/YouGov Poll believe the country is headed in the right direction (18%) than at any point in the last four years.

Republicans have been bullish on the topic for the last four years: typically, 60% or more believed the country was headed in the right direction. This optimistic assessment remained high even during the coronavirus pandemic. The week after the election, however, that number was cut by more than half – from 60% to 25%. It remains low – only 29% of Republicans this week say the country is on the right track.

But Democrats are worried, too, even though their presidential ticket was elected. This week, one in five Democrats (20%) think the country is on the right track. Though low, it is higher than it has been in the last few years. During the Trump presidency, that assessment that the country was “generally headed in the right direction” frequently languished in single digits.

Both Democrats and Republicans are convinced – for now, at least – that the country is terribly divided, and that the election made it worse. Two-thirds say the election divided the United States even more, an opinion shared by 59% of those who voted for President-Elect Joe Biden and 83% of those who voted to re-elect President Donald Trump. As for bringing the country back together, there is more pessimism than optimism that unity is possible.

For many Americans, the conflict exists within their own families and friendship groups. Around two in five Biden supporters (44%) and Trump voters (38%) say they had a close friend or family member who voted for the other candidate. Another 20% of voters aren’t sure whether someone they are close to voted differently from them. The South appears to be the region with the fewest political family and friendship divisions; the West has the most.

The voters’ view of those on the other side suggests there is a more fundamental division than just a political one. More than two in three of each candidate’s supporters claim that those who voted for the other candidate aren’t just different politically, but hold different goals and values.

This is a perception of American disunity shared by those in both parties. While moderates are more hopeful than either liberals or conservatives, there is no difference by age, gender, or region.

And there is no easy fix on the horizon. By 46% to 26%, Americans don’t think Biden will be able to bring the country together. Even many of Biden’s own voters are skeptical this can be done. Only 45% of them believe this will happen; the rest aren’t sure or say he won’t be able to bring the country together. Of course, this may say more about how Biden voters view Trump supporters than how they view the person they voted for.

One possibly positive finding: little by little, the President’s voters may be moving towards a recognition that Joe Biden was elected. But the movement is very slow. This week, by 40% to 27%, those who voted for the President agree than Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. Last week, Trump voters were split (32% believed he would; 32% believed he would not).

Despite an increased acknowledgement that Biden will be inaugurated, just 25% say President Trump should concede the election, an increase of only five points in the last week.

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adults interviewed online between December 13 - 15, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.2% for the overall sample.

Image: Getty