Monmouth Poll: Is the Country FUBAR Politically?

Gerald Herbert/AP; Andrew Harnik/AP

Gerald Herbert/AP; Andrew Harnik/AP

The vast majority of voters say the country is greatly divided and many are also concerned that the country could suffer lasting damage if people who did not share their own principles came into power. Paradoxically, most voters claim to have a fair amount of confidence in their fellow Americans’ political judgment, although this sentiment has been on the decline recently.  The latest Monmouth University Poll also found that many Americans feel their personal way of life is under threat from a variety of sources, with Islamic terrorists and Donald Trump prompting greater concern than illegal Mexican immigrants and Hillary Clinton.

Seven-in-ten registered voters nationwide (70%) say that America is greatly divided when it comes to the most important values.  Just 27% say Americans are united and in agreement on these values.  The sense that the country is divided is similar among Republicans (73%), independents (70%), and Democrats (67%).  Only 30% of voters say the country is heading in the right direction while 65% say it is on the wrong track – but this opinion has a more partisan bent to it, with 89% of Republicans and 73% of independents saying the country is on the wrong track compared to just 39% of Democrats who feel the same.

Half of the American electorate (50%) express a great deal of concern that the country would suffer lasting damage if people who hold core political principles different from their own were able to put their policies into place.  Another 34% have some concern about potential damage to the country if this happened.  Majorities of Democrats (54%) and Republicans (51%) have a great deal of concern about this, while just under half of independents (46%) feel the same.

Still, the poll found that a majority of voters have either a great deal (13%) or a fair amount (47%) of trust and confidence in the American people as a whole when it comes to making judgments under our democratic system about issues facing the country.  However, this 60% trust level is lower than it has been in the past according to polls conducted by the Gallup organization.  Gallup found public trust in the America people at 86% in 1976, at 75% in 2004, and at 64% in 2012.  Today, Democrats (70%) are more likely than independents (57%) and Republicans (56%) to say they have confidence in the American people.

“We are seeing a mixed bag of results here. Voters claim they trust the American people to make political decisions, but it seems that may only apply if they actually agree with those decisions.  And the conflict they see among their political leaders doesn’t boost confidence,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

A majority of voters (54%) say that the current government in Washington has a negative impact on most people’s lives – including 71% of Republicans, 62% of independents, and just 34% of Democrats.  Only 19% of voters overall feel the federal government has a positive impact and 21% say it doesn’t have much impact on people’s day to day lives either way.

It’s also worth noting that the rating of how Congress is doing remains abysmally low at 14% approve and 78% disapprove.  On the other hand, Pres. Barack Obama’s job rating has taken a significant upturn in the past month, now standing at 56% approve and 40% disapprove.  It was 49% approve and 46% disapprove in July.

Most voters (55%) see an unwillingness to compromise among elected officials as causing more problems in DC as opposed to having leaders who are unwilling to stand up for their principles (36% say this causes more problems).  Democrats (69%) and independents (53%) say a lack of compromise is the bigger problem while most Republicans (52%) say a lack of backbone on principles is the bigger problem in Washington.

Two-thirds of voters (67%) feel the harsh language used in politics today is unjustified, which is up from 54% who felt this way in January.  Just 27% of the electorate are okay with the type of harsh language used in current political discourse given the current state of the country.  More Donald Trump supporters are fine with abrasive rhetoric (49%) than are turned off by it (45%).  Among all self-identified Republicans, though, more say this type of language is unjustified (51%) rather than justified (43%).  On the other hand, 8-in-10 Hillary Clinton supporters (82%) and self-identified Democrats (81%) alike say this language is unjustified.

The Monmouth University Poll also asked American voters if they feel the American way of life is under threat right now.  Nearly half (47%) feel it is under a great deal of threat and 31% sense some threat, while only 1-in-5 say the threat level is either not much (13%) or not at all (7%).  Republicans (65%) are most likely to feel the American way of life is under a great deal of threat, followed by independents (48%), and Democrats (35%).

“It seems that voters’ confidence in the American system of government is based more on which party they think will be elected to power rather than an underlying belief in the strength of our democracy,” said Murray.

The poll specifically asked whether voters feel that their own personal way of life is under threat from six different sources.  Among these sources, majorities of the electorate say they personally feel threatened by Islamic terrorists (61%) and by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency (54%).  About 4-in-10 feel their way of life is threatened by the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency (42%), by the policies of the Republican Party (43%), or by the policies of the Democratic Party (39%).  Just 28% say their personal way of life is under threat from illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Independents are about as likely to sense a threat to their way of life from having either Trump (50%) or Clinton (51%) in the Oval Office.  However, Republicans are less likely to see Clinton as a threat (77%) than Democrats are to say the same about Trump (85%).  Conversely, Republicans are more likely to feel Trump poses a threat to their way of life (18%) than Democrats who feel the same about Clinton (6%).

Interestingly, voters under the age of 35 tend to feel less of a threat from all of these sources than voters age 35 and older, with the exception of Trump, who 61% of those under 35 feel could be a threat to their way of life as president compared to 52% of those age 35 and older.  Younger voters are also less likely to trust the American people’s political judgment (45% of those under age 35 compared to 66% of those age 35 and older), less likely to have a great deal of concern if people who don’t share their political views get into power (39% compared to 53%), and a little more likely to be okay with the harsh rhetoric used in politics today (34% compared to 25%).

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from August 4 to 7, 2016 with 803 registered voters in the United States.   The results in this release have a margin of error of + 3.5 percent.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.