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Majority Of Americans See Democracy As Weak And Getting Weaker

Lights shine inside the U.S. Capitol Building as night falls in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018.
Associated Press
Lights shine inside the U.S. Capitol Building as night falls in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018.
Majority Of Americans See Democracy As Weak And Getting Weaker
Majority Of Americans See Democracy As Weak And Getting Weaker GUESTS: Sarah Repucci,, senior director for research and analysis at Freedom House

>>> AS WE APPROACH THE FOURTH OF JULY AND CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, MANY OF US ARE WONDERING HOW LONG OUR GREAT DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT WILL CONTINUE. THAT IS THE FINDING OF A NEW BIPARTISAN SURVEY ON AMERICANS FAITH IN DEMOCRACY. THE RESEARCH CONDUCTED BY THE GEORGE W. BUSH INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA'S BIDEN CENTER AND FREEDOM HOUSE FEELS THAT HALF OF AMERICANS THINK THE UNITED STATES IS IN REAL DANGER OF BECOMING A NONDEMOCRATIC AUTHORITARIAN COUNTRY. THE SURVEY EXPLORED THE REASONS WHY THAT CONCERN IS GROWING AND WHAT WE MIGHT DO ABOUT IT. JOINING ME IS SARAH, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS WITH FREEDOM HOUSE. SARAH, WELCOME TO THE ROOM. >> THANK YOU. >> WHY DID YOU UNDERTAKE THIS SURVEY IN THE FIRST PLACE? WAS THERE SOME CONCERN ABOUT THE HEALTH OF DEMOCRACY IN THE U.S.? >> YES. FREEDOM HOUSE HAS BEEN LOOKING COMPARATIVELY AT DEMOCRACY AROUND THE GLOBE FOR ALMOST 40 YEARS. WE HAVE ONLY JUST RECENTLY IN THE LAST SEVEN YEARS STARTED LOOKING MORE CLOSELY AT THE UNITED STATES BECAUSE WE STARTED SEEING INCREASING PROBLEMS HERE. OF COURSE, THESE ISSUES HAVE COME TO THE FOREFRONT OF EVERYONE'S MIND SINCE THE 2016 ELECTION. FREEDOM HOUSE REALLY FELT THAT THIS WAS A GOOD MOMENT TO TAKE A MORE IN-DEPTH LOOK AT WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE UNITED STATES. TO DO IT IN A BIPARTISAN MANNER, WITH PARTNERS ACROSS THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM. >> CAN YOU EXPLAIN A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THE BIPARTISAN NATURE OF THIS WHOLE --? >> FREEDOM HOUSE CAME TOGETHER WITH THE GEORGE W. BUSH INSTITUTE AND THE PENN CENTER FOR GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT SPONSORED BY PRESIDENT -- FORMER VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN. ENGAGED IN THE OPINION POLL AND WE PARTNERED WITH A COUPLE OF POLLING FIRMS, ONE ON THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE AND ONE ON THE REPUBLICAN SIDE. IT WAS A VERY BIPARTISAN EFFORT. >> WHAT ARE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS THAT WERE ASKED AND WHAT WERE THE RESULTS? >> SO THE MAIN FINDING WE HAD IS THAT AMERICANS ARE STILL VERY STRONGLY SUPPORTING DEMOCRACY. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, THERE IS A CRISIS IN CONFIDENCE IN THE WAY THAT U.S. DEMOCRACY IS OPERATING RIGHT NOW. ASK PEOPLE QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT OUR DEMOCRACY AND ALSO ABOUT HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT OUR FOREIGN POLICY AND WHETHER OR NOT DEMOCRACY SHOULD BE SUPPORTED IN OUR FOREIGN POLICY. >> THE RESULTS YOU GOT BACK WAS THAT MOST AMERICANS POLLED SEEM TO SEE OUR DEMOCRACY IS WEEK. >> YES, EXACTLY. 55% OF AMERICANS SEE OUR DEMOCRACY IS WEAK AND 68% SEE IT AS GETTING WEAKER. AROUND 8-10 AMERICANS -- EIGHT IN 10 AMERICANS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. >> WITH THE PEOPLE PULLED GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO SAY WHY THEY SAW AMERICAN DEMOCRACY IS WEEK? >> WE ASKED PEOPLE WHAT THEIR PRIMARY CONCERNS WERE AND GAVE THEM A LIST OF 11 DIFFERENT OPTIONS. THE TWO OPTIONS THAT VASTLY OUTRANKED ALL OF THE OTHER OPTIONS AS FAR AS PEOPLE'S CONCERNS WERE RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION. AND ALSO BIG MONEY AND POLITICS. >> IN BREAKING DOWN THE RESULTS, ARE THERE DEMOGRAPHIC DIFFERENCES IN HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE MARKET HAVE IN DEMOCRACY? BETWEEN YOUNG AND OLD? BETWEEN RACIAL GROUPS? >> IS YES, VERY MUCH SO. 2% OF THE TOTAL POPULATION SAID THAT THEY ARE NOT SATISFIED WITH THE WAY THAT OUR DEMOCRACY IS FUNCTIONING RIGHT NOW. 61%, SO 10 PERCENTAGE POINTS MORE OF BLACK AMERICANS FELT THAT THEY ARE NOT SATISFIED. SIMILARLY, IN TERMS OF HOW, WHETHER THEY FEEL ARE DEMOCRACY IS WEAK OR NOT, 55% OF AMERICANS OVERALL SAID THAT THEY THINK THAT IT IS WEEK AND 65% OF BLACK AMERICANS. IS A BIG DIFFERENCE THAT WE SAW. WE ALSO SAW DIFFERENCES IN YOUNGER AMERICANS AND AMERICANS UNDER 30, WHO REPORTED HIGHER LEVELS OF DISSATISFACTION DOWN THE GENERAL AMERICAN POPULATION. LOWER LEVELS A FEELING THAT IT IS IMPORTANT TO LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY. >> ON THIS SURVEY, WERE THE QUESTIONS THAT REVEALED POLITICAL GOAL PARTISAN DIVIDE. >> THERE ARE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE POLITICAL PARTIES. WHENEVER YOU ASK QUESTIONS IN A POLL ABOUT DEMOCRACY OR POLITICAL ISSUES, YOU ARE ALWAYS GOING TO SEE MORE DISSATISFACTION FROM THE PEOPLE WHO CONSIDER THEMSELVES TO BE MORE AFFILIATED WITH THE PARTY THAT IS OUT OF POWER. AND OUR POLL SHOWED THE SAME. DEMOCRATS SHOWED MORE DISSATISFACTION THAN REPUBLICANS OVERALL. BUT, I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT A LOT OF OUR FINDINGS WERE VERY BIPARTISAN. ESPECIALLY THE FINDINGS ABOUT THE CONCERNS ABOUT DEMOCRACY, PEOPLE WERE CONCERNED ACROSS PARTISAN LINES ABOUT MONEY AND POLITICS. ALSO, ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF DEMOCRACY. ACROSS PARTISAN LINES, PEOPLE FELT THAT IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY. >> OUTSIDE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING IN A DEMOCRACY, ARE THERE ANY OTHER THINGS THAT YOU MIGHT CONSIDER TO BE GOOD NEWS IN THIS SURVEY? >> ONE OF THE FINDINGS THAT WE THOUGHT WAS VERY INTERESTING IS THAT PEOPLE FEEL THAT IT IS MORE IMPORTANT FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO SUPPORT THE RIGHTS OF INDIVIDUALS AND SMALL GROUPS AS OPPOSED TO IMPLEMENTING WHAT THE MAJORITY WANTS. >> JUST THIS SURVEY, THE RESULTS OF THIS SURVEY, OR ANALYSIS OF THE SURVEY, DOES IT TELL US WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO RESTORE CONFIDENCE IN AMERICAN DEMOCRACY? >> YES. WE ASKED PEOPLE WHAT THEY THOUGHT COULD BE DONE IN TERMS OF SAFEGUARDING AND PROTECTING AND IMPROVING OUR DEMOCRACY. THEY GIVE US SOME INTERESTING ANSWERS. I THINK THE MOST INTERESTING IS THAT PEOPLE STRONGLY SUPPORT A CALL TO ACTION. A CALL FOR MORE VOLUNTEERING, MORE PUBLIC SERVICE, THEY SEEM READY TO TAKE ACTION THEMSELVES. TO BE MORE INVOLVED IN THE POLITICAL SYSTEM. WE FIND THAT VERY ENCOURAGING AND WE HOPE THAT POLITICAL LEADERS WILL TAKE THAT ON THEMSELVES. AND HELP TO ENCOURAGE MORE AMERICANS TO BE INVOLVED IN THEIR POLITICAL PROCESS. PEOPLE ALSO SAID THAT THERE SHOULD BE MORE PROTECTIONS AGAINST RACIAL BIAS. THEY SAID THAT THERE SHOULD BE LIMITS ON CONTRIBUTIONS TO FEDERAL ELECTIONS, SO I THINK THOSE ARE MORE GENERAL DESIRES FOR, SAFEGUARDS AGAINST SOME OF THE CONCERNS THAT THEY EXPECT AND THE PAUL. >> I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING WITH SARAH, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS WITH FREEDOM HOUSE. SARAH, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. >> THANK YOU SO MUCH, MAUREEN.

The president of the United States has admired aloud the powers of dictatorsKim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin.

Nationalism has risen around the globe, including in the U.S., where confidence in government, the rule of law and freedom of the press and of speech have recently been under assault.

So how is American democracy doing these days? It's certainly not on life-support, but many believe it's become dangerously anemic. The George W. Bush Insitute, the Penn Biden Center andFreedom House, a non-profit which monitors the health of democracies around the world, decided to evaluate its health.

These partners engaged two polling firms — one Democratic, one Republican — which held focus groups and embarked on a national survey. The results were both heartening and concerning, as Sarah Repucci, senior director for research and analysis at Freedom House, explains on KPBS Midday Edition Tuesday.

Highlights fromThe Democracy Project:

– 84 percent of respondents said it was important to live in a democracy.

– 60 percent rated it "absolutely important" (10 out of 10).

– Democrats, the party out of power, believe that American democracy is weak (68 percent) and getting weaker (79 percent).

– 39 percent of Republicans say democracy is weak, and 47 percent say it's getting weaker.

– Non-white Americans are not as convinced as whites of the "absolute importance" of living in a democracy, 59 percent to 64 percent.

– The top concerns of Americans about democracy are racism, discrimination and big money in politics.

– And a majority of Americans (54 percent) believe protecting the rights of individuals and small groups should be a priority in a democracy.

Corrected: November 28, 2022 at 11:59 PM PST
Editor’s Note. A previous version of this story incorrectly named the George W. Bush Institute as the George W. Bush Foundation and the Penn Biden Center as the Penn Biden Foundation. This has been corrected.
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