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Horowitz: Americans Beliefs in Democratic Values are Holding Up

Tuesday, May 01, 2018


Rob Horowitz

Americans still believe in the values that undergird our democracy, according to an in-depth national poll, recently released by Pew Research Center.  These bedrock beliefs are holding up, despite many years of what most people perceive of as at least somewhat dysfunctional national government, and the more than a year of daily frontal assaults on our democratic institutions and norms, emanating from President Trump and his enablers in Congress and the media.

“The public places great importance on a broad range of democratic ideals and principles in the United States today,” states the written poll report. “Across 16 democratic values asked about in the survey – including respecting the rights of all, having a balance of power across government branches and having officials face serious consequences for misconduct – large majorities say these are very important for the country.”   For each of these critical values, more than 9-in-10 Americans say that that they are at least somewhat important for the country.

I found it particularly encouraging that 6-out-of-10 Americans say that it is very important that people agree on basic facts, even if they disagree on policies and that this opinion cut across party lines.  People recognize that our current politics and government fall far short of living up to this value. Only 1-in-3 votes say that ‘people agreeing on basic facts, even if they disagree on politics’ describes this country well today. 

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famously said, “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Without an agreement on basic facts, reaching the common ground required for principled compromise will remain elusive.   

More fundamentally, democratic decision-making relies on the recognition of reality, the use of reason and the search for truth.  When that is no longer at least the standard to which we aspire, an environment is created where autocrats and demagogues can thrive. The undermining of this objective standard of truth is part of what is behind President Trump’s reckless falsehoods and sustained effort to create an alternative reality.  When people become unsure of the difference between what is true and what is false, a politics based on fear and division has a much greater chance to succeed.

In keeping with these results, Pew finds that “fewer than half of Americans (45%) say Donald Trump has a great deal or fair amount of respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions, while 54% say he has not too much respect or no respect.”  Not surprisingly, this result is marked by a fairly large partisan divide with a much higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans believing the president has little or no respect for democratic institutions and traditions.

The hopeful takeaway, however, is that there is fertile soil for elected officials, candidates, activists and regular citizens who come forward and speak up for democratic values.  A receptive audience awaits. In a nation that is defined by shared ideals--not any specific nationality, race of religion-- this remains our most crucial task; especially at this crucial time.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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