The political disconnect: Where has US voter excitement gone?

Fewer than a quarter of US voters say they are excited about the upcoming presidential election. About 55 percent of Americans report a sense of helplessness, according to a new AP-NORC poll.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
The White House is viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Republicans and Democrats feel a massive disconnect with their political parties and report feeling helpless heading into the next phase of the presidential election, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Heading into November’s presidential election, a new poll reveals Republicans and Democrats alike feel a large-scale disconnect with their parties and even helpless about the election.

Only 12 percent of Republicans describe the GOP as very responsive to ordinary voters, while 25 percent of Democrats feel the same about their party, according to the poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

“It feels like the state of politics is generally broken,” Joe Denother, a Oregon voter who typically favors Republicans, told the AP. This year, he says he is undecided.

The findings point to a growing schism between the two parties and the voters they claim to represent that helps explain why voters have intensively rallied around outsider candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Just 8 percent say the GOP is very or extremely responsive to voters’ concerns. An additional 29 percent say it is moderately responsive, while 62 percent say it is only slightly or not at all responsive.

Democrats have only a slightly brighter view. About 14 percent say the party is very or extremely responsive, 38 percent say it is moderately responsive, while 46 percent say it’s only slightly or not at all responsive.

This alienation from the two major political parties is also mirrored in approval ratings for the two presumptive presidential candidates — Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton — that make them two of the least popular since the 1980s.

Americans’ declining trust in government, which peaked in the mid-1960s and has declined ever since, according to the Pew Research Center, is a key cause.

For voters, that has made Trump and Senator Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist running as a Democrat, seem like more appealing alternatives.

[Voters] with the lowest trust in government, they’re picking outsider candidates not because they’re ideologically extreme, but because they’re bucking the establishment,” Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, a political scientist at the University of Rhode Island, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this month.

Both Trump and Sanders have leveled charges that the political system is increasingly rigged against them, a position voters in the AP-NORC poll say they also feel is true.

“It seems that everything was made straight for Hillary Clinton," Ron Cserbak, a retired teacher who lives in Cincinnati and usually votes for Democrats, told the AP.

On the Republican side, Trump recently won the number of delegates to clinch the Republican nomination after months of assailing party leaders and positioning himself as an outsider.

He now appears to be more closely embracing backing from the party, entering into a fundraising agreement with the Republican National Committee.

But Mr. Denother, who works in health insurance, still feels an increasing disconnect. “The Republicans have gotten away from their core message of fiscal responsibility," says Denother, who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. "I feel there's an identity crisis. And with a lack of identity, it's hard to have confidence in the party."

According to the new poll, 6 in 10 Americans think the Republican Party is only slightly or not all open to new ideas or candidates, while about half think the same of the Democratic Party.

While voters remain interested in the presidential race, fewer than a quarter say they are excited about it. About 55 percent of Americans feel even more disenchanted, saying they feel helpless about the election. Among Americans under 30, that number rises to two-thirds.

While few are excited, 37 percent say they are hopeful about the 2016 contest.

That’s perhaps reflected in growing increases in voter registration in populous states such as California, where a record 850,000 voters registered for the primary in June.

Mr. Cserbak, the Democratic voter from Cincinnati, echoes that trend. “I am despondent," he told the AP. “I wouldn't say I feel totally helpless. I do have a vote."

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