Political Alienation Driving Mid-Term Voters?

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Political Alienation Driving Voter Involvement?

(David Schleifer, Real Clear Wire) After decades of declining trust in government, political parties, and traditional politics, do Americans feel they have a stake in our democracy and its future? Will they stand up for our democratic institutions when they are threatened? Even more so, what do Americans believe needs to change in order to get more people invested in the political process?
According to new nationally representative survey research from Public Agenda, nearly one in three Americans is politically alienated. They feel politicians cannot be trusted to put the interests of the country ahead of the interests of their party, that politicians don’t care what people like them think, and that politics and government are too complicated for them to really understand.
These findings, released as part of Public Agenda’s Political Alienation Barometer, show only modest variation by political affiliation in how many people feel politically alienated: 34% of Republicans, 29% of Independents, and 25% of Democrats. In other words, alienation cannot be dismissed simply as sour grapes about the outcome of the last election or worries about the next one – there’s something deeper going on.
Overall, half of all Americans think our democracy is in crisis. However, by wide margins, far more Americans who are alienated (63%) believe our nation’s democracy is in crisis, compared to only 31% of those who are not alienated. The vast majority of politically alienated Americans (75%) also think it’s a serious problem that politicians are more interested in blocking the other party rather than getting things done, while only 35% of non-alienated Americans think that’s a serious problem. The one-in-three Americans who are politically alienated are also far more likely to see government corruption and corporate influence on politics as serious problems than those who are not alienated at all.
But is this actually bad news? One way to read these findings is that politically alienated Americans are more attuned to and concerned about the problems our nation’s democracy faces. In fact, substantially more politically alienated Americans (71%) say the design and structure of our nation’s government need to change no matter who is elected to office – although nearly half (48%) of non-alienated Americans believe in the need for structural change as well.
In fact, when Public Agenda asked Americans what would get them more involved in the political process in general – which could include everything from voting and organizing to attending school board meetings and participating in local zoning processes – alienated people were far more enthusiastic about every potential strategy or reform that the survey asked them to consider. For example, alienated Americans were particularly enthusiastic about structural reforms like congressional term limits and electing the president based on the popular vote instead of the electoral college. But they were also enthusiastic about shifting our political culture and practices, such as by giving ordinary people more of a voice in government decision-making and politicians actually listening to and acting on voters’ priorities.
Despite their frustrations, alienated Americans are nearly as likely to say they plan to vote in the upcoming midterms as their non-alienated peers. And that means they may hold the key to making positive, long-term change beyond more than just the next election.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire. For the complete findings, methodology, and topline of the Political Alienation Barometer, please visit Public Agenda.

David Schleifer, PhD, is the vice president and director of research for Public Agenda.Read the rest
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