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The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

Sharing the Mood of the Nation in Washington, D.C.

Sharing the Mood of the Nation in Washington, D.C.

Nov 02, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the heart of the Nation’s Capital earlier this week, Michael Berkman summed up the country’s mood: Americans are pretty angry and divided, and it’s not good for democracy.

Results from the Mood of the Nation poll conducted by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy show that Americans are more divided, anxious and angry than ever. But the findings also show a bright spot in public perception of checks and balances between branches of government.

Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute and Penn State of political science,  presented some of the poll’s findings Oct. 30 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The Mood of the Nation poll stands out from others in the field because it requires open-ended responses to questions rather than offering participants a limited number of pre-set choices. By allowing respondents to voice their concerns in their own words, the poll provides a unique look into politics

“We can track the specific topics that are on Americans’ minds and the intensity of their feelings,” Berkman said.

So, what are those feelings? For the most part, the mood in the country is sour, especially when it comes to politics and the news. Results of the latest poll, conducted in August, found that 95 percent of respondents were easily able to identify something in politics that made them angry and far fewer identifying something that made them proud.

“When we ask what in politics or in the news makes them proud, almost half the respondents in five straight polls say things like ‘nothing’ or ‘I can’t think of anything’ or ‘I don’t know,’” Berkman said.

This summer’s protests in Charlottesville were also on the minds of poll respondents in August. Democrats felt that intolerance and bigotry were on the rise, and Republicans expressed concern about the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue and counter-protests to the white supremacists.

Increasingly, partisanship and polarization are encroaching on personal relationships as divides move from political to personal.

“To put it simply, there is a remarkable lack of empathy or understanding of the other side, by both sides,” Berkman said. “Negative partisanship has transformed politics from a battle between opposing teams of candidates with different ideas, into two hostile camps that disdain each other.”

Not only are American angry and divided, they’re also anxious. Prior to the election, the poll found Republicans worried about Hillary Clinton and Democrats worried about Donald Trump. However, there is now one new thing that seems to unite people across the political spectrum.

“In our most recent poll we’re starting to see all American come together with a fairly clear concern about going to war in Korea,” Berkman said. “This is the top worry for one out of five Republicans now, and about one out of every five Democrats as well.”

Beyond anxiety over North Korea, the country appears to remain mostly united around the idea of checks and balances.

Results of the latest poll show that 78 percent of respondents felt the Supreme Court should act as a check on the president, even on hot-button issues like terrorism and national security. Further, partisan divides on topics related to the courts were not as deep as seen in other poll topics.

“From this, we conclude that the vast majority of Americans would support intervention by Congress or the Courts if they believed President Trump was exceeding his Constitutional authority,” Berkman said. “We see little evidence that Trump’s rhetoric about judicial legitimacy has created two hostile camps with widely differing views on the court. And this is good news.”

The Mood of the Nation Poll is directed by Eric Plutzer, Penn State Professor of Political Science and an affiliate faculty member in the McCourtney Institute. Each Mood of the Nation Poll is based on answers from a scientifically selected, representative sample of 1000 adults, with fieldwork conducted in partnership with YouGov, an online polling organization.