Poll: Voters feel disconnected despite 2016 campaign passion

Only 15 percent of Americans report a great deal of confidence in the Democratic Party, compared with just 8 percent who say the same of the GOP, according to an AP-NORC poll. 

John Minchillo/ AP/ File
A poll worker leads a voter to an electronic voting machine at the Schiller Recreation Center polling station in Columbus, Ohio in November 2015. American voters are largely feeling pessimistic about politics and the upcoming election, according to a May poll from AP-NORC.

Republicans and Democrats feel a massive disconnect with their political parties and "helpless" about the presidential election.

That's according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which helps explain the rise of outsider candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and suggests challenges ahead for fractured parties that must come together to win this fall.

"It feels like the state of politics is generally broken," said Joe Denother, a 37-year-old Oregon voter who typically favors Republicans.

The divisive primary season has fueled an overall sense of pessimism about the political process that underscores a widening chasm between political parties and the voters they claim to represent. Just 12 percent of Republicans think the GOP is very responsive to ordinary voters, while 25 percent of Democrats say the same of their party.

Among all Americans, the AP-NORC poll found that just 8 percent consider the Republican Party to be very or extremely responsive to what ordinary voters think. An additional 29 percent consider the GOP moderately responsive and 62 percent say it's only slightly or not at all responsive.

The Democratic Party fares only slightly better, with 14 percent saying the party is very or extremely responsive, 38 percent calling it moderately responsive, and 46 percent saying it's only slightly or not at all responsive.

Denother, who works in health insurance, says he feels the disconnect with the party he usually supports.

"The Republicans have gotten away from their core message of fiscal responsibility," said Denother, who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and is undecided this year. "I feel there's an identity crisis. And with a lack of identity, it's hard to have confidence in the party."

The survey exposes an extraordinary crisis of confidence in most major political institutions just as both parties intensify efforts to connect with voters heading into the general election.

In general, only 15 percent of Americans report a great deal of confidence in the Democratic Party compared with just 8 percent who say the same of the GOP. That's as only 4 percent say they have a great deal of confidence in Congress, 15 percent in the executive branch and 24 percent in the Supreme Court.

The findings come as Trump assumes the mantle of GOP leader, having won the number of delegates necessary to clinch the Republican presidential nomination. Trump got there with an aggressive anti-establishment message, railing against his party leaders for months.

Now the New York billionaire appears to be changing course. He recently entered into a high-dollar fundraising agreement with the Republican National Committee and plans to rely heavily on the RNC's staffing and data programs to connect with voters.

But the candidacy has spurred intense soul-searching for many voters and politicians concerned about the mogul's break with traditional GOP values

"It's a hinge moment," Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman under former President George W. Bush, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this month. "This is one of those times where a door really is swinging open or closed on what it means to be a Republican."

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton remains locked in a divisive primary battle with Sanders, a self-identified democratic socialist who has inspired a large and loyal following. The Vermont senator has echoed Trump's charges of an unfair political system that's stacked against him and ordinary Americans, a criticism that resonates with many voters.

"It seems that everything was made straight for Hillary Clinton," said Ron Cserbak, a 63-year-old retired teacher who lives in Cincinnati and usually votes for Democrats.

Sanders' supporters have decried "a nominating process that to them seems outmoded at best, if not hopelessly undemocratic and corrupt," as the Monitor reported earlier this month, echoing "a broad and persistent strain in American thought, toward more direct voter control and less filtering of electoral processes by political elites." 

The new poll finds that 6 in 10 Americans think the Republican Party is only slightly or not at all open to new ideas or candidates outside the political establishment, and about half say the same of the Democratic Party. About 3 in 10 think each party is only moderately open either to new ideas or outsider candidates.

The survey also found evidence of overwhelming interest in the presidential contest, although less than a quarter of Americans say they're excited about it.

Worse, 55 percent of Americans, including 60 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats, say they feel helpless about the 2016 election. And two-thirds of Americans under 30 report feeling helpless.

"I am despondent," said Cserbak. "I wouldn't say I feel totally helpless. I do have a vote."

In contrast, only 13 percent of respondents said they felt proud about the election; 37 percent said they were hopeful.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,060 adults was conducted May 12-15 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

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