Americans are fed up with national politics. Both Republicans and Democrats think political debate has become more toxic than it was just a few years ago. They both feel angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed. In larger numbers than just a few years ago, and in greater numbers than in 6 out of 7 other nations, adults in the U.S. are cutting down on the time they devote to the news or avoiding it completely.
Communications scholars Maria Celeste Wagner and Pablo J. Boczkowski conducted face-to-face interviews with a diverse cross-section of adults from Chicago, Miami, and Philadelphia. The feelings about political news of the people they interviewed were predominantly negative. They reported feeling frustrated, angry, and overwhelmed. Democrats were particularly upset about President Trump’s statements and policies. Republicans were especially unhappy about media coverage of Trump.
To cope with their very negative emotional reactions to political news, some people began to tune it all out. The authors did not report the percentage who did so, but they did mention the results of international research from the University of Oxford. In a 2019 survey of 8 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States — the US had the second-highest percentage of people who said that they sometimes or often avoided the news. In the US, 41% avoided the news, up from 38% two years earlier. Only in Turkey did more people avoid the news — 55%.
Why Adults in the U.S. Are So Upset with National Political Discourse
Results of an extensive Pew survey suggest some of the reasons why Americans are so upset with political news and political discourse. The participants were 10,170 randomly selected U.S. adults who took a self-administered web survey.
Adults in the U.S. believe that the national political debate has worsened over the last several years. That’s a bipartisan condemnation. Nearly identical percentages of Republicans and Democrats believe the discourse has become more negative (86%), less respectful (86% or 87%), less fact-based (76% or 79%), and less focused on the issues (60% or 62%). Just under half also find the national political debate less entertaining (45% or 46%).
Neither Democrats nor Republicans write off heated discourse as just talk. They are worried about it. Well over half of all Republicans, 61%, believe that heated or aggressive language used in talking about certain people or groups makes violence against them more likely. An even greater percentage of Democrats, 91%, believe the same thing.
How Does Trump Make People Feel?
When Wagner and Boczkowski conducted their interviews with people from Chicago, Miami, and Philadelphia, they found that people equated politics with Trump. When asked about political news, they talked about Trump.
In the Pew survey, participants were asked directly how Trump’s statements made them feel. More than half of all Republicans and Democrats said that Trump’s statements often or sometimes made them feel concerned or embarrassed, though many more Democrats than Republicans said those things.
Trump’s statements made them feel concerned
59% of Republicans
92% of Democrats
Trump’s statements made them feel embarrassed
53% of Republicans
83% of Democrats
For the other negative reactions to Trump’s statements — confused, exhausted, angry, insulted, and frightened — members of the two parties were split. Fewer than half of the Republicans, but more than 80% of the Democrats, said they often or sometimes experienced those emotions.
Trump’s statements made them feel confused
47% of Republicans
86% of Democrats
Trump’s statements made them feel exhausted
41% of Republicans
89% of Democrats
Trump’s statements made them feel angry
37% of Republicans
88% of Democrats
Trump’s statements made them feel insulted
32% of Republicans
87% of Democrats
Trump’s statements made them feel frightened
22% of Republicans
81% of Democrats
The results flipped for the positive emotional reactions. Very large percentages of Republicans (between 67% and 79%), and very small percentages of Democrats (between 5% and 35%), said that Trump’s statements made them feel entertained, informed, hopeful, excited, happy, proud, respected, and inspired.
Who Is More Comfortable Discussing Their Political Views in General or Donald Trump in Particular?
Participants in the Pew survey were also asked about their comfort in discussing their political views in general and Donald Trump in particular. When speaking about generalities, both Republicans and Democrats thought that the Democrats were more comfortable freely and openly expressing their political views in this country, though the difference was much smaller for the Democrats.
When asked specifically about Donald Trump, though, the results were different. More Republicans than Democrats, 67% to 48%, said that they would feel very or somewhat comfortable discussing Donald Trump with someone they do not know well. One possible implication of this is that in conversations with acquaintances, people are more likely to hear the opinions of those who support Trump than of those who oppose him.