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Big Picture

Most back major democracy fixes but skeptical of system's future

Solid majorities support many of the most prominent proposals for making democracy work better, but in almost all cases Democrats are bigger boosters than Republicans, Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling shows.

But the latest poll, out Friday, also adds to the roster of national opinion surveys laying bare how Americans have lost faith in their government's ability to address the nation's big challenges.

Almost two-thirds of respondents expressed that sentiment. And, in a rare bipartisan accord, those saying the nation's best years have passed outnumber those confident in a brighter future, 51 percent to 44 percent, with Democrats, Republicans and independents all statistically in sync in those views.

Of the 1,000 adults surveyed two weeks ago, just 44 percent professed belief in the nation's capacity to overcome political divisions to solve problems, while 53 percent said it could not.


In addition, commitment to democracy and majority rule were described by just 32 percent as fairly or extremely accurate fundamental ideas to associate with the nation – a plunge from 53 percent two decades ago.

It is at this point the partisan split becomes wide. Among Democrats, 56 percent believe American democracy needs a complete overhaul or major changes, while a comparable 58 percent of Republicans say the opposite – the system is working well or needs only minor tinkering.

As a result, more Democrats than Republicans professed support for some specific changes in the system, saying they would improve democracy "a lot" or "just some," although there was sufficient consensus to yield majority support in the poll:

  • Nonpartisan commissions drawing congressional and state legislative districts: 66 percent
  • Election Day as a national holiday: 66 percent
  • Automatic voter registration for every adult citizen: 65 percent
  • Term limits for Supreme Court justices: 60 percent
  • Eliminating the use of the Electoral College in deciding presidential elections: 56 percent
  • Federal funding of congressional campaigns: 54 percent

The question about deciding the presidency using the national popular vote, which would have made Hillary Clinton president in 2016 and Al Gore president in 2000, was the most polarizing: 81 percent of Democrats back the idea but only 32 percent of Republicans agree.

The proposal with the most bipartisan support was term limits for members of Congress, supported by 81 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of independents and 67 percent of Democrats.

"Most Americans believe that Democracy in America needs some real work," Jeff Horwitt, the Democratic pollster who works with a GOP partner on the NBC/WSJ surveys, told the paper. "America is not a house divided – and this is not a teardown – but it is a house in need of a lot of work on its foundation and repairing significant structural damage."

We’re all about the issues that have broken American democracy — and efforts to make governments work again for you, your family and your friends.
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