The 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll, released last week, measured Americans’ level of satisfaction with democracy and confidence in our major institutions. Check out coverage of the Poll in the Washington Post, Vox, Nonprofit Quarterly, and on NPR Politics Podcast’s Weekly Roundup.
Political party, far more than any other demographic characteristic
including age, race, or education level, drives Americans’ views on our democracy, according to
a new poll from Georgetown University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll, sponsored by Georgetown University’s
Baker Center for Leadership & Governance and Knight Foundation, found that far more
Republicans (76%) are “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with U.S. democracy, compared to just
44% of Democrats and 40% of the overall public.
Party affiliation also largely determined confidence in our institutions: the Executive branch is
the institution in which Democrats have the least confidence, while for Republicans it is the
fourth-highest. The press is the institution in which Republicans have the least confidence, while
it is the seventh highest institution in terms of confidence for Democrats.
“Few institutions have the confidence of Americans across the political spectrum,” said
Jonathan Ladd, an associate professor at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy and
the survey director. “We need to look seriously at this troubling trend, to determine why this is
happening and how we can return more institutions to a place of widespread respect.”
The authors also examined other demographic characteristics to determine what drives
satisfaction with democracy, including age, region of the country, and social media usage.
The survey found that the young are no less satisfied with democracy than any other age group.
In fact, the young had the highest level of satisfaction with democracy, although all the age
groups scored similarly.
Similar to the results among younger respondents, the survey found that white midwesterners
without a college degree do not have less confidence in institutions and satisfaction with
democracy than other Americans.
The survey also found that social media usage – including those who are “always using” (at
least 10 times a day on a single platform, 19%) social media, those who “never use” (14%)
social media; and those who use social media “regularly” (67%) – has basically no relationship
to satisfaction with democracy. To the extent that there is any relationship, it is that non-users of
social media have the lowest level of satisfaction with democracy.
“In addition to satisfaction with democracy, we found no evidence that increased social media
usage was related to lower levels of confidence in the press, the FBI, or political parties, all
institutions where we might have suspected increased exposure to social media could have
driven down confidence,” said Joshua Tucker, a professor in the Wilf Family Department of
Politics at New York University and a survey co-author. “While still preliminary, these findings
suggest that the received wisdom that social media could be responsible for declining trust in
institutions in the United States may need to be re-examined.”
The 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll was co-authored by Jonathan Ladd, associate
professor, McCourt School of Public Policy and the Department of Government, Georgetown
University; Joshua A. Tucker, professor in the Wilf Family Department of Politics, New York
University; and Sean Kates, a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics, New York
They surveyed 5,400 Americans, more than five times the typical political poll, including
over-samples of African Americans, Latinx Americans, and Asian Americans.
The poll included both close-ended and open-ended questions about confidence in specific
institutions and satisfaction with American democracy, enabling researchers to go beyond
quantitative snapshots about respondents’ views and draw qualitative insights into their
underlying reasons and feelings.