Voters' level of anger has significant impact on their preferences for the next president, the poll showed
Three-quarters of Republicans say government is in need of major reform, compared with 44% of Democrats
A sustained outburst of anger and deep disdain for government that has shaped the Republican race for president and confounded the pundits is not going away.
The spirit of insurrection that has powered outsider candidates like Donald Trump to the head of the polls is threatening to close an already narrowing lane for more traditional candidates in the frenzied run-up to the first early voting contests early next year.
A Pew Research Center poll published Monday showed that the deepest suspicion of government, though also elevated among the broader electorate, remains in the Republican Party. The intensity of that sentiment toward the nation’s leaders helps explain the turbulent nature of the GOP’s 2016 election race and the dominance of Trump.
With his explosive anti-establishment rhetoric, attacks on political correctness and deeply personal swipes at rival candidates, Trump has successfully tapped into this palpable fury in sectors of the Republican primary electorate and has skipped unharmed through controversies – like branding undocumented immigrants from Mexico rapists and criminals and backing a database for Muslims in the United States – that might have ended more traditional campaigns.
And with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire now just over two months away from weighing in on the contest, the conventional wisdom that outsider candidates such as Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson will fade seems to be on thinner ground than ever before.
The Pew poll shows that candidates like Trump who have fanned the flames of anger at government have sound political rationales for doing so.
Republicans and those who lean Republican are three times as likely as Democrats to say they are “angry” with government – 32% to 12%. Among Republicans and Democrats who vote often and follow politics closely, the gap is even wider: 42% to 11%.
And 89% of Republicans said they can seldom, if ever, trust the federal government. Among Democrats, that number is 72%, demonstrating that widespread cynicism about politicians is not a partisan issue.
The findings confirm that the surge of distrust in Washington – aimed not just toward the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama but GOP leaders as well – remains a driver of the primary race, even if establishment candidates hope otherwise.
Combined with GOP hopefuls’ injection of terrorism and the politics of fear into the race after the Paris terror attacks, the polls suggest that any candidate seen as a creature of the establishment will continue to struggle this election cycle.
The billionaire real estate mogul is viewed more favorably by the nearly one-third of Republicans and GOP leaners who are “angry” at the government (64% favorable rating) than by those who are “content” or merely “frustrated” with government (48 percent favorable rating).
Other GOP presidential candidates like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Carson also do better among Republicans who are angry at government. Though Rubio and Cruz are sitting senators, both have taken pains to distance themselves from Washington and to position themselves as authentic voices for voters.
And the struggles of one-time Republican front-runner Jeb Bush are laid bare by the poll. The former Florida Governor’s favorable rating is 18 points lower – at 39% – among Republicans who say they are angry.
As the Obama era draws to a close, the poll suggests that skepticism about Washington institutions is growing across the board. Only 19% of Americans said they could trust government always or most of the time, close to the lowest level in the past 60 years, according to Pew.
Although Trump is leading Republican national polls and surveys in many early voting states, he again this weekend refused to rule out the idea of running as an independent if he fails to capture the GOP nomination. And the Pew poll suggests that he may find a receptive audience for his anti-government message among a broader electorate than the Republican Party.
Overall, 74% of Americans said that most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s. Fifty-five percent, meanwhile, believed that ordinary Americans would do a better job of solving problems than politicians.
Still, when it comes to key areas of government responsibility, most people concluded that government had an important responsibility – even if it could be handling it better.
Among all Americans, 94% said the government had a major role in keeping the nation safe from terrorism, 88% said handling natural disasters was a job for government, and 87% said that ensuring safe food and medicine was a key task for government. Further reflecting the popularity of Trump’s message, 81% said that it was the responsibility of government to manage the immigration system – but only 28% said it was doing a good job in the area.
Pew surveyed 6,004 Americans by phone from August 27 to October 4 for the poll, which carries a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. Pew surveyed roughly 2,600 Republican and Republican leaners and an equal number of Democrats and Democratic leaners, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.