Three in five Americans are dissatisfied with American democracy

June 22, 2021, 8:32 PM UTC

How do Americans feel about American democracy? Their opinions are not pretty: three in five US adults (59%) are dissatisfied with the way American democracy is working, something that remains relatively unchanged since it was asked under the last administration (62%).  

While the overall opinion of American democracy remains steady, partisans shift their assessments based on who is in office. When Donald Trump was still president, most Republicans were satisfied (53%) with the way democracy was working in the U.S. Now, in the latest Economist/YouGov poll, with Democrat Joe Biden in the White House, just one in five Republicans (20%) are satisfied.  

Democrats are happier now (42%) than they were in 2020 before Biden won the election (18%), although half today (50%) are not satisfied.

Despite their frustrations, Americans do not seem to want a system other than democracy. By a wide margin (66% to 16%) Americans agree with the statement that "democracy is the best form of government.” While Democrats are more likely to say this (84% agree with the statement, 8% disagree), Republicans also agree by more than three to one (65% to 19%).  

However, how democracy works in the United States is not considered to be much better than its workings abroad. The percentage who view democracy as better in the U.S. than elsewhere has dropped nine points from two years ago, from 43% then to 34% now. That decline has been fueled by a 24-point drop from 66% to 42% among Republicans.  

What’s required to have a strong democracy? There are many things the public sees as necessary, and Democrats are more likely to view all the examples (free and fair elections, checks and balances, a free press, and protections for minority views) as more important than Republicans do. 

When this question was last asked in 2018, most items were viewed as about as important as they are seen today. But the change in Administration has had a greater impact on Republicans.

Today, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans are ten points more likely to say it is “very important” (43% vs 33%) that news organizations are free to criticize political leaders, and five points more likely to believe the right of people with unpopular views to express themselves is very important (57% vs 52%).  

There is, however, concern about the future of democracy in the United States, and in this case, Democrats are the exception. Just about half of Democrats (47%) are optimistic about democracy’s future, compared to one-quarter of Republicans (25%) and Independents (24%). 

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 Adult Citizens interviewed online between June 13 - 15, 2021. 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 3.0% for the overall sample. 

Image: Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels