Two-thirds of Americans feel they have little or no influence over the actions of the federal government. Forty-five percent say the country’s greatness is ebbing. As many see voter fraud as commonplace. A third aren’t confident that votes in the presidential election will be counted fairly. And a third say people like them are treated unfairly in this country.
The results of this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, mark the extent to which underlying views of the state of the nation interact with political preferences. In some ways, a pessimists vs. optimists election.
Among likely voters who feel that the United States is less great than it’s been in the past, 70 percent said they support Donald Trump. But among the majority that says the country is the same or better in terms of greatness, 72 percent back Hillary Clinton.
Additionally, while a plurality (45 percent, as noted) says the United States is less great, about as many (43 percent) also say that people like them are better off than their parents were. Trump easily wins those who feel worse off, 58-29 percent, but better-off likely voters prefer Clinton over Trump by a substantial 23-point margin, 56-33 percent.
In the most pervasive negative, 68 percent feel that people like them have little to no influence on what the federal government does. The sharp division comes in the 33 percent who feel most disenfranchised, saying they have no influence on the government at all. Trump leads Clinton among likely voters in this group by 55-24 percent (with 12 percent for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and 5 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein). Voters who report little influence divide about evenly between Clinton and Trump; those who feel greater efficacy instead back Clinton by 70-20 percent.
Among other groups, Trump leads by 22 points among likely voters who think people like them don’t get a fair shake, 55-33 percent, and by 58-29 percent among those who think their quality of life has fallen behind their parents.
Trump also capitalizes on the widespread distrust of the election process. Likely voters who lack confidence that votes will be counted accurately back him over Clinton by 63-18 percent. He has a similar 61-22 percent advantage among those who think voter fraud happens somewhat or very often.
That said, just more than half of the public feels the United States is as great (37 percent) or greater (16 percent) than it’s been in the past; 64 percent think people like them are treated fairly and 74 percent say that the quality of life for people like them has either held steady (31 percent) or improved (43 percent). Each of these groups broadly favors Clinton over Trump.
She leads by a vast 69-point margin among likely voters who feel the country is greater than it was in the past, but also by a whopping 53 points among those who feel the country’s greatness hasn’t changed. She’s +23 among those who feel that their quality of life is better than their parents’ generation and +19 among those who think people like them are treated fairly.
Clinton also captures the support of those with greater trust in the democratic system. More than six in 10 Americans are at least somewhat confident that votes will be counted accurately and half feel that voter fraud is an infrequent occurrence. Likely voters in these groups back Clinton by 30- and 46-point margins, respectively.
Moreover, although just 32 percent of Americans feel they have at least some influence over the federal government, Clinton’s broad 50-point advantage among likely voters in this group counteracts Trump’s lead among the majority who feel they have little to no influence.
Trump and Clinton backers espouse vastly different worldviews. Eighty-five percent of Trump’s supporters feel they have little to no influence over the federal government and 82 percent feel the United States is less great than it once was. Seven in 10 think that voter fraud happens with at least some frequency and more than half are not confident that votes will be counted accurately.
In contrast, eight in 10 Clinton backers feel the United States is as great or greater than it’s been in the past and more than half feel that life is better for them now than it was for their parents’ generation. Less than a quarter think voter fraud happens with at least some frequency. Just 16 percent feel they have no influence at all over the government and only 13 percent lack confidence that votes will be tallied correctly.
Not surprisingly, nearly all of these views are closely linked with political partisanship and ideology. For example, while seven in 10 Republicans feel America’s greatness has waned, just a quarter of Democrats say the same. There’s also a vast ideological divide – two-thirds of conservatives feel the United States has declined, compared with just 23 percent of liberals. Political independents and moderates fall in the middle – 43 and 41 percent, respectively, say the country is less great than it used to be.
Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to think voter fraud happens frequently, 61 vs. 30 percent. Forty-six percent lack confidence that the votes for president across the country will be counted accurately. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to hold these views by 36- and 19-point margins, respectively.
Republicans also are 14 points more likely than Democrats to feel people like them have no influence over what the federal government does, 34 vs. 20 percent (this peaks, though, among independents), and 11 points more likely to say life has gotten worse compared with their parents’ generation, 28 vs. 17 percent. Reports of unfair treatment for “people like you,” however, do not significantly differ by partisanship.
Views of the United States’ greatness and perceptions of one’s own status are intertwined. Americans who feel that the quality of life for people like them has declined also are far more apt to feel the country’s greatness has faltered, compared with those who think things have improved, 75 vs. 31 percent. This gap remains even after controlling for partisanship, ideology and demographic differences.
Skepticism about the election and beliefs about the country’s status also go hand-in-hand, independent of political predispositions. Six in 10 of those who think voter fraud happens frequently also feel that the country’s greatness has declined, compared with just three in 10 of those who think voter fraud is less common. Americans who lack confidence that votes will be counted accurately similarly are far more likely to view the country’s greatness as waning.
There also are demographic differences that remain even after controlling for partisanship and ideology. Among them:
• Nonwhites are less likely than whites to see declines in the United States’ greatness or their quality of life, despite being more likely to report that people like them are treated unfairly and expressing greater concern that votes will not be counted accurately.
• Higher-income Americans are more likely than lower-income adults to feel the country’s greatness is waning, but also 16 points less likely to feel people like them are treated unfairly, 38 vs. 22 percent.
• College-educated Americans are 16 points less likely to think voter fraud is a frequent occurrence and 12 points less apt to lack confidence that votes will be counted accurately, compared with those who lack a four-year degree.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Sept. 5-8, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, including 642 likely voters. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect, for the full sample, and 4.5 points for likely voters. Partisan divisions are 34-24-33 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents, in the full sample, and 36-28-31 among likely voters.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.