Democrats Have Lost Confidence in America's Future

Pew Research data indicates that Democrats trust government less, and feel less assured about the direction of the country than they did prior to the presidential election.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton at her election night rally in New York on November 8, 2016.  (Carlos Barria / Reuters)

As the Democratic Party adjusts to the reality of Donald Trump in the White House, its voters are angrier, less trusting of government, and less confident in the future of the United States than they were before the presidential election.

That’s according to polling from the Pew Research Center released on Wednesday tracking public perceptions of government. The survey data paints a picture of a Democratic electorate that has become increasingly alienated by the balance of political power in the United States in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat.

In 2015, and while Barack Obama was still president, a full 50 percent of self-identified Democrats and people who lean toward the Democratic Party reported feeling quite confident in the future of the United States. Only 28 percent feel the same way now, according to a survey conducted last month. Meanwhile, the percentage of Democrats who say they feel very little or no confidence at all in the country’s future increased from 12 percent in 2015 to 34 percent in 2017.

On top of that, Democrats are now angrier at, and more distrustful of, the federal government. “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are about twice as likely to express anger toward the federal government than they were a year ago (11% then, 24% today),” the Pew report detailing the results of the polling data concludes. And according to the report: “Just 15% of Democrats say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right always or most of the time, a decrease of 11 percentage points since fall 2015.”

To some extent, the results aren’t surprising. Democrats are not only shut out of power in Washington, the party has lost hundreds of state legislative seats in recent years, a daunting reality that may have been easier for loyal liberal partisans to ignore when their party held the White House.

Not only did the party lose power, it lost it to an unpopular president, who Democratic party leaders had described as a menace and a threat during the 2016 campaign. “Disastrous,” “devastating,” “terrifying,” and “tragic” were some of the words Clinton supporters used to describe the outcome of the election in its immediate aftermath, according to a YouGov/Economist poll.

In contrast, trust in government among Republican voters has risen in the aftermath of the election, and so has confidence in the country’s future, while anger at the government has lessened. “The current share of Republicans who say they trust the government at least most of the time (28%) is considerably higher than throughout much of the Obama administration,” the Pew report notes and increased relative to October 2015. The share of Republicans who feel angry at the government has decreased since March 2016. And fifty-nine percent of Republicans now say they feel quite a lot of confidence in the future of the United States, compared to just 40 percent who said the same in 2015.

The report notes, however, that despite these trends, “GOP trust in government today remains significantly lower than it was throughout most of George W. Bush’s administration” while Republicans remain “more likely to express anger at government today than they were during the Bush administration.” As a result, levels of anger toward the government among Republicans and Democrats are roughly on par with one another.

Setting aside partisan differences, Pew finds that overall the American public’s trust in government remains near historic lows. That suggests that even if the election has restored some faith among Republicans in their confidence in the future and in their political representation, both parties may need to look for ways to regain voter trust if they want to chip away at the current level of suspicion among the American public toward government.