Updated Sep 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Poll: Americans' trust in political system at new lows

Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans' views of the U.S. political system have reached new lows, according to a survey that reveals near-record distrust of the government, disgust with both political parties and general exhaustion over all the divisiveness.

Why it matters: The survey by Pew Research Center reflects the growing distaste with the nation's politics as congressional infighting threatens a government shutdown and the 2024 presidential race appears headed toward a Biden-Trump matchup most Americans don't want.

  • Four times as many Americans have unfavorable views of both parties today than they did in 2002 — an all-time high, with Republicans and Democrats equally unpopular, the survey found.
  • Trust in the government is near a 70-year low, with just 16% of the public saying they trust the federal government at least most of the time.
  • Two in three Americans say they always or often feel "exhausted" when they think about politics. The top two words they use to describe U.S. politics are "divisive" and "corrupt."

Zoom in: The problem could get worse as younger generations make up greater shares of the population. Younger people are far more likely to be critical of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

  • 37% of 18- to 29-year-olds had unfavorable views of both parties, compared to just 16% of those 65 or older.
  • A growing number of younger voters are rejecting the two-party system and claiming to be independent, as Axios has reported.

Between the lines: A third-party solution is not so straightforward, however.

  • 68% of Americans overall say they at least somewhat wish there were more parties to choose from, but they're not convinced that having more than two major parties would make it easier to solve the nation's problems.
  • Only about a quarter think so, while another quarter say more parties would make solutions more difficult.

The big picture: There is broad bipartisan agreement on what Americans view as the system's biggest problems.

  • For example, 87% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats agreed with the idea that politicians in both parties "are more focused on fighting each other than on solving problems."
  • Americans want limits on those in government: 87% want term limits and 79% support age limits — a proposition that has gained widespread attention in the face of congressional health scares and concerns about President Biden's age and acuity.
  • But Democrats were about twice as likely as Republicans to say "the federal government does more for ordinary Americans than people give it credit for." That description of the federal government had the largest partisan gap on the list.

Americans have become deeply cynical of those who run for office, the survey found.

  • When asked to use their own words to describe the biggest problem with the political system, Americans' most common answer (31%) involved "politicians."
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