As the U.S. faces converging existential issues perpetuated largely by establishment politicians and the right wing, new polling released on Monday finds that a majority of young Americans believe that U.S. democracy is on the brink of failure — or that it has already failed.
The poll surveyed 2,109 Americans, aged between 18 and 29 years old. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that the U.S. is “a democracy in trouble,” while 13 percent said that the U.S. is “a failed democracy,” adding up to 52 percent.
Only 27 percent of respondents described American democracy as “somewhat functioning,” while a mere 7 percent said that U.S. democracy is “healthy.”
The results of this poll, conducted by the Harvard Public Opinion Project, may be a sign that young Americans are ready for the country to be radically transformed.
Over half of the survey’s young respondents reported having felt depressed or anxious, with the pandemic, economic concerns, and school or work ranking high as factors that affected their mental health. The climate crisis was also cited as a major concern, with 56 percent of poll respondents saying they expect their personal decisions in the future to be affected by climate change.
Young Americans are already feeling the impact of massive economic and political crises on an individual level, said Jing-Jing Shen, student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion project. “Right now, young Americans are confronting worries on many fronts. Concerns about our collective future – with regard to democracy, climate change, and mental health – also feel very personal.”
Interestingly, young Republicans were more likely to say that democracy is either “failed” or “in trouble,” with 70 percent of respondents saying as such. They were also more likely than Democrats or independents to say that a civil war was coming within their lifetime. This may be due to increasing radicalization within right-wing media and the Republican Party.
The poll comes at a time of extreme turmoil for the U.S. Last year, measures taken by Congress to counteract the economic impact of the pandemic were successful in decreasing the poverty rate — but that relief is likely to be short-lived, as social safety nets like the federal student loan repayment pause are soon set to expire. Despite several effective vaccines, the U.S. is currently nearing 800,000 deaths due to the pandemic, and the country now faces what could potentially be a fifth wave of COVID infections.
Meanwhile, scientists have warned that the climate crisis is rapidly worsening. But mainstream U.S. politicians are still blocking climate action in favor of lining their own pockets — often while outright denying that the climate crisis even exists, parroting decades-old talking points from fossil fuel companies.
Indeed, the political establishment appears to be less interested in serving the public than it is in serving their own interests. While Republicans openly oppose the very idea of democracy, saying that less people should have the ability to vote, the Democratic establishment has consistentally sabotaged their own party, ignoring the wants and needs of the public to prevent progressive and socialist politicians from gaining power.
“After turning out in record numbers in 2020, young Americans are sounding the alarm. When they look at the America they will soon inherit, they see a democracy and climate in peril,” said John Della Volpe, polling director for Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. “Despite this, they seem as determined as ever to fight for the change they seek.”