February 24, 2024

Story Highlights

  • 28% are satisfied, down from the prior low of 35% after Jan. 6 Capitol riot
  • 38% of Democrats, 17% of Republicans are satisfied
  • Americans with less formal education are less satisfied

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new low of 28% of U.S. adults are satisfied with the way democracy is working in the country. The current figure is down from the prior low — 35% measured shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by rioters trying to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

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The latest results are based on a Dec. 1-20, 2023, survey.

Gallup has asked Americans about their satisfaction with U.S. democracy nine times since 1984. The high point came in the first reading, when 61% of Americans were satisfied with the way democracy was working. It was nearly as high, at 60%, in 1991.

However, Americans’ satisfaction showed signs of deterioration in 1992 — often referred to as the year of the “angry voter” — in the wake of an economic recession and congressional scandals exemplified by members writing scores of bad checks from the House bank. By June 1992, when insurgent third-party candidate Ross Perot led presidential preference polls, 36% of Americans were satisfied with the way democracy was working. Later that year, incumbent President George H.W. Bush was defeated for reelection, and the reelection rate for members of the U.S. House was one of the lowest in the past 50 years.

American satisfaction rebounded in 1994-1998 surveys, including 52% satisfied in 1998 after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach then-President Bill Clinton. The increase may have reflected greater satisfaction with the way things were going in the country, generally, during a period of strong economic growth.

Gallup did not ask the question again until 2021, though two CNN surveys from 2010 and 2016 each showed 40% satisfaction ratings. These results suggest Americans in the 2010s were once again disillusioned with the way democracy was working, perhaps due to continued gridlock in Washington amid growing budget deficits, ongoing gun violence, racial tensions and illegal immigration.

The more recent declines of the past two years (to varying degrees for different partisan groups) may reflect economic unease amid higher prices, disapproval of the jobs President Joe Biden, Congress and the Supreme Court are doing, increasing hostility between the political parties, former President Donald Trump’s persistent political strength, and concerns about election security, voting rights and the independence of the courts and the justice system.

Republicans Least Satisfied With Democracy

Among major U.S. subgroups, Republicans (17%) are least likely to say they are satisfied with the state of democracy, and Democrats (38%) are most likely. Political independents fall about midway between the two party groups, at 27% satisfaction.

All three party groups are less satisfied now than they were in 2021, when 47% of Democrats, 21% of Republicans and 36% of independents were satisfied shortly after Biden took office.

Typically, partisans have been more satisfied with the way democracy is working when a president from their preferred party has been in office. Between 1984 and 1992, spanning the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, Republicans expressed greater satisfaction than Democrats in each of the four surveys conducted.

All of the more recent surveys have been conducted in years when a Democratic president was in the White House. Democrats have been more satisfied than Republicans in all of those except one: the 1998 survey conducted after the Republican-led House impeached Clinton.

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Satisfaction with democracy also differs sharply by education. Americans with postgraduate education tie Democrats as the subgroup most likely to be satisfied, at 38%. Meanwhile, roughly three in 10 adults who attended college, but not graduate school, are satisfied, and 21% of those who did not attend college are.

Americans without a college education show the steepest decline in satisfaction since 2021 among key subgroups, dropping 15 percentage points from 36%.

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In past surveys, Americans with no college education have typically been the least satisfied with U.S. democracy.

Bottom Line

Americans are preparing to elect the next president at a time when they are less happy about the state of U.S. democracy than at any point in at least 40 years. The 2024 election is expected to match a historically unpopular incumbent president with a former president whom voters previously rejected for a second term. While conditions seem ripe for a successful third-party challenger, it remains unclear whether such a candidate can win within the U.S. electoral system.

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