The Dissatisfaction of American Voters

A new Quinnipiac survey shows most Americans believe the country has lost its way.

Jim Young / Reuters

It’s campaign gospel by now that Donald Trump has tapped into the unhappy underbelly of the American electorate, offering people previously disinterested or dissatisfied in the political system the promise that he’ll burn it to hell.

But while Trump’s supporters perhaps get the most attention, they certainly aren’t the only ones looking for great change. A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows just how widespread the discontent could be.

The survey shows the majority of registered voters believe, to some degree, that the country has “lost its identity” and that their values and beliefs are “under attack.” Those feelings are stronger among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters than among those on the Democratic spectrum—a predictable find in this divisive election year, which comes eight years into President Obama’s tenure. Trump’s backers feel the threat keenest of all: 85 percent strongly or somewhat agree that America has strayed, while 91 percent strongly or somewhat agree their guiding tenets are being targeted. (Quinnipiac surveyors polled more than 1,400 registered voters, with a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.)

Of course, presidential years move fast. In the time between when the poll was conducted (March 16 to 21) and released (today), several big events have shaped the race: the Brussels bombings on March 22; primaries in Arizona, Utah, and elsewhere; and Trump’s recent stumbling on abortion and foreign policy. Though the poll doesn’t show how voters feel right this moment, it’s nevertheless an interesting snapshot of a singularly unusual election season. The data can also inform larger election trends—as in, is 2016 an anomaly or the new normal?

A core complaint among Democratic and Republican voters has been the economy and what they see as a too-slow recovery from the recession. Economic concerns have fueled the rise of Trump and Bernie Sanders, who both promise greater assistance for those left behind and less entanglement between big-money interests and the political process. According to the poll, 57 percent of Americans believe, to some degree, that they’re “falling further and further behind economically,” including 48 percent of Democrats or Democrat leaners and 67 percent of Republicans or Republican leaners.

Some feel they’re not only falling behind, but that others are getting more help than they deserve. Asked if “the government has gone too far in assisting minority groups,” 72 percent of Republicans or Republican leaners agree, at least somewhat, compared with 18 percent of Democrats and Democrat leaners. That high figure on the GOP side certainly dovetails with liberal notions of the party’s lack of inclusiveness. And given that the mainstream GOP has publicly promoted bringing more minority voters into the fold, this has got to be a worry for an already-beleaguered party.

The poll is not without very broad-strokes solutions to fix the country’s ailments. Of those surveyed, 64 percent advocated, to some degree, for “radical change.” The highest support came from Trump and Sanders voters, who also overwhelmingly said their candidate is “leading a movement, not just a campaign.” Some of those surveyed are even willing to go to unusual lengths to implement the changes they want. The majority of Republican-prone voters said they need a leader “willing to say or do anything to solve America’s problems.” Trump supporters—or at least 84 percent of them—seemed to embrace this plan.