Nobody Feels Like A Winner In American Politics Right Now

A new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds little faith in the U.S. system of government — or in the wisdom of other Americans.

Only 12% of Americans feel like their political “side” has been winning more often than losing on the issues that matter, a HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted earlier this month finds. Another 38% say they’re losing more often, with the rest unsure or saying things have been about even.

Republicans, newly shorn of the White House and Senate, are the least optimistic ― just 12% say they feel they’re generally on the winning side, with 47% saying they’re mostly losing. But Democrats’ views are sunnier only in comparison, with 21% saying they think their side is mostly winning, and 28% saying that they’re more often losing.

The partisan divide does mark a modest shift since a late December survey, in which Democratic voters were more likely to feel like they were losing than that they were winning, while Republican voters were about evenly split.  (That survey, unlike the current one, included only registered voters.)

There’s a broad sense of public pessimism about the state of the U.S. government, and about the U.S. itself, the latest survey finds. Just 37% describe the system of government in the country as “basically sound,” and requiring at most some improvement. Another 52% say it’s, at best, “not too sound.” 

Younger Americans are especially unconvinced that the government is in decent shape: Just 29% of those under age 30 say the system is basically sound, compared with 48% of those 65 and older. Those without college degrees are also less likely than those who hold them to view the system as sound.

Only a third of Americans say they have a good or very great deal of trust and confidence in the wisdom of the American people to make political decisions, with 55% saying they don’t have very much trust, or that they have none at all. 

Other polls, while not directly comparable, add some historical context. They suggest that although public disenchantment isn’t brand new, it’s also not an immovable fixture of the political landscape.

Three 1980s surveys, conducted by the Roper Organization and the Opinion Research Corporation, found anywhere between two-thirds and 83% of Americans expressing belief in the basic soundness of the U.S. government; a 2017 Monmouth University survey, by contrast, put that number at about one-half. More recently, Pew Research found that Americans’ trust in their own political wisdom, after remaining positive throughout the late 1990s and as far as 2007, had sunk to negative levels by 2015 and stayed there

Another recent historical shift has involved rising levels of partisan antipathy, as well as more sharply drawn distinctions between the two parties.

In the latest HuffPost/YouGov poll, 48% of Americans say they think there’s a lot of difference between Democrats and Republicans, with 26% saying there’s some difference, and just 15% that there’s little or no difference. Forty percent of Americans say they view politics as a struggle between right and wrong, while an effectively identical 41% say they don’t think about politics this way. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the biggest divides on these questions are not by party, but by people’s level of interest and attention in politics. Among those who say they follow what’s happening in government and public affairs “most of the time,” two-thirds see a lot of difference between the parties, and 52% see politics as a struggle between right and wrong. Among those who follow current events, at most, “now and then,” those numbers are just 39% and 25%, respectively.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 14-18 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.