Poll: Americans believe primaries and politics are 'broken'

A new AP-NORC poll found widespread dissatisfaction with US political systems, little confidence in government as a whole, and discouragement with the ongoing presidential race.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
A view of the White House as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

As an unpredictable, turbulent, and at times bizarre United States presidential primary and caucus season wraps up, a new study shows that a majority of Americans feel “helpless” and “angry” about the nation’s political system.

A recent poll found that 2 in 3 Americans, regardless of party, are “frustrated” with the ongoing presidential election, where two uncommonly unpopular candidates have risen to the top of their parties’ nominating ladders. The presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, currently sits at a historic 51 percent unfavorability rating, while Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton ranks second all-time at 37 percent.

The statistics point beyond the election, highlighting a strongly negative perception of the entire system that brought Mr. Trump and former Secretary of State Clinton to the forefront of this year’s race.

“It feels like the state of politics is generally broken,” voter Joe Denother of Oregon told the Associated Press.

Of the 1,060 Americans, scattered across the political spectrum, who were surveyed for the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, 65 percent claim to be interested in the race, but only 23 percent are “excited,” and a minimal 13 percent are “proud” of the electoral process. 

Only 10 percent have a great deal of confidence in the country’s overall political system.

The overwhelming discontent extends to both parties, with 51 percent of survey respondents having “hardly any” confidence in the Republican Party compared with 43 percent for the Democrats.

The only sector of government in which a majority of Americans have a great deal of confidence is the military. Congress sits at a lowly 4 percent confidence rating.

Voter dissatisfaction applies to both parties’ establishments as well, with less than 1 in 5 poll respondents saying that Democratic and Republican leadership is open to new ideas or accounting for ordinary voters’ views. 

The frustration and disconnect has boiled over to the current race for the White House, where 16 Republican candidates fell to the outspoken businessman Trump, and an ongoing Democratic battle between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont.

That primary process is viewed as unfavorably by many, with 38 percent of survey respondents calling it “seriously broken,” echoing the opinions of Trump and Senator Sanders. Sanders' supporters have said the Democratic primary process is confusing and biased against an outsider like the self-proclaimed democratic socialist.

“It seems that everything was made straight for Hillary Clinton,” Democratic-leaning voter Ron Cserbak of Cincinnatti told the AP. “I am despondent.”

It’s kind of like a rigged election,” San Rafael, Calif. voter and Sanders supporter Nayef Jaber added, according to The Washington Post. While Clinton leads Sanders by 270 pledged delegates gained from state wins, per the AP, her 541 to 43 lead in unpledged superdelegate party leaders has many upset with the unrepresentative facet of the Democratic system. Only 17 percent of Americans think positively of superdelegates, while 53 percent had a poor perception of the concept.

Republican primaries do not feature superdelegates, yet they have been similarly criticized as some delegates allocated in primaries and caucuses are not necessarily bound to the associated candidates – although not enough to threaten Trump's lead.

In spite of questions concerning the electoral procedure, half of Americans view Sanders' run for the presidency as good for the Democratic party, compared with 33 percent support for Trump's run.

The respondents’ grievances against both parties’ primary systems also include criticisms of different states’ practices regarding closed elections – in which voters can only fill out ballots aligned with their party registrations, thereby shutting out independents – and the differences between caucuses and primaries. Sixty-nine percent of Americans want to see open primaries in every state, and 81 percent said primaries are fairer nominating methods than caucuses.

Adjustments to either side’s electoral processes are unlikely to occur until after this year’s presidential election, although both parties’ national conventions this summer are likely to include the discussion of rule changes going forward.

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