Americans feel increasingly unhappy and neglected by their government and are losing interest in who and how is running their nation, opinion polls show. Why could that be and where could it take America? Radio VR looks at it with the US political and social analyst Dr. Mark Mason and Yuri Rogulev, head of the Franklin Roosevelt Center of American studies in Moscow.
According to a special survey commissioned for The Atlantic Magazine and the Aspen Institute, 65 percent of Americans doubt whether America will be on the right track in 10 years. Only 33 percent believe their country will be a “land of opportunity”.
American Dream seems to be fading as 70% of Americans doubt that working hard and playing by the rules could bring success in the future.
The disillusionment brings indifference. According to a new Pew Research Center study, only 40% of Americans know which party controls the majority in the House and Senate, whereas 28 percent “have completely no idea".
Yuri Rogulev, head of the Franklin Roosevelt Center of American studies at the Moscow State University, says the trends have been around for quite some time…
The apathy among the American electorate is a long-term trend. And we may also say that one of the reasons for this apathy is the ongoing trend of the two-party crisis. It means that the parties become electorate machines. They are less concerned about the issues, they are more concerned about their power and about how to win the elections. On many issues parties became very close to each other and many American voters don’t see a great difference between the parties.
What are the characteristic features of this party crisis is that the number of the strong supporters of each party is going down – the number of people who are strongly supporting the Democrats or the Republicans is going down. And the number of those people who consider themselves as independent voters, is growing.
For at least 20 years or more, election results have been defined by the so-called independent voters, who decide whom to support, and they decide it at the last moment. And even more importantly, they can vote for one party at one level of elections and they can vote another party candidate at another level, at the federal level of elections.
So, this is not anything new to the American politics. The crisis of the two-party system is a long-term trend that is very difficult to overcome. There is a lot of talk about the third parties, but they are still not very successful because of many specific features of American electoral system.
At the same time, I must say, that we should keep in mind that the Americas much be more active at the local level. America is a big country and Washington DC and the federal Government are very far, but local problems are here and people are more concerned about them.
Other problems are connected to the general economic situation in the US. The unemployment is pretty high and people are very uncertain about their future, mainly because of these economic reasons. People do not see the decisive actions to overcome the difficulties in the economic situation. And of course, they are naturally connecting these economic issues to the politics and see no clear way out of this present economic situation.
America is overcoming the economic crisis of 2007, but is doing this very slowly and very unpredictably. And this of course affects the people’s attitude towards politics and the situation at large.
Mark Mason, political and social analyst from Los Angeles, California:
We have many reasons to be pessimistic. Medium household income has fallen during the past five years, since January of 2008, when President Obama took office. So, we have an economic situation where the majority of Americans lost massive proportion of their wealth and income during the 2008-2009 banking collapse, and they are not recovering from it. The top 1% have recovered fully and are pushing the stock market to all time record high.
So, we have a classic situation where the rich are getting to a situation where it is appropriate to use a new term – ‘the super-rich’. And the middle-incomers and the poor are getting poorer. So, they have no reason to expect anything will change in the next immediate future either.
There is strange unawareness of what is going on in power. There is a statistics showing that many people are really unaware what the majority party in Congress is.
Yes, it is very important. The concrete data we are getting from the Pew Research organization, that’s been true since we’ve been polling, really. And generally, within the last 20 years that I've looked at the polls, there’s been very little attention to Congress and the President.
I think we should not be surprised about it, but I think it is extremely valuable to examine. There is no reason for Americans to pay any attention at Congress. There is no reason for Americans to know which party controls the House of the Senate.
That’s a very practical and, sadly, a wise choice by Americans not to pay any attention to what is going on in Congress, because the studies have shown that the Government policies are not reflective of the majority of public opinion. The Americans don’t know, for example, which party has the majority in the Senate and they can’t find Ukraine on a map either.
77%, or three quarters of the US college graduates cannot find Ukraine on a map. And there is a very good reason for that (again, to emphasize that), there is no reason for Americans to know where Ukraine is, or which party is in control of the US Senate. Political participation is limited to 10 minutes every four years in a voting booth punching a card to vote for some candidate.
We have no functional political parties. The US has never been a democracy. We’ve had even a recent academic study, of very high quality academic study that compared the US Government policies with public opinions on those Government policies over a period of 20 years. And their data shows really very concretely in their admirable research that there is no connection whatsoever between what the people want, what the majority of Americans want, what 80% of Americans want and Government policies.
The legislation that is adopted by the Congress and signed by the President has almost nothing to do whatsoever with respect to what the people of the US want. So, we have the evidence in this report that 80% of the US population is effectively being ignored.
We have two major factors. One is that I’ve been talking about, that there is no reason for Americans to pay any attention at Congress, because Congress pays no attention to Americans.
And then, we have a very important systemic factor, I’d like to mention just briefly with you. I think it is very critical, if it gets to the reason why people don’t pay any attention to Congress, beyond the immediate fact that Congress ignores them. The US is a culture that is characterized by authoritarian institutions.
Americans don’t know what a democracy is. Americans are engaged in like parent-child relationships at home, at school, at work, in the political arena and in religions organizations. We don’t engage in decision making like adults deliberating with other adults, discussing public policy issues, considering various options and participating in a decision. That would be a democracy.
But what we have in our politics in the US, we have the so-called leaders and the leaders are in charge and we have admiring followers. That’s American political context.
But if people are disillusioned, they’re disinterested, they are unaware of what actually is going on, that makes them particularly susceptible to being manipulated?
You can only be manipulated if you actually are participating and engaged in some form in the decision making process. Americans, when they do participate, they go to the polls, they cast ballots for elections, voting for various candidates. They don’t even know what public policy position the candidates have.
I don’t know a good polling data on this, but I've seen questions directed to Americans shortly before an election asking them just broadly about any kind of public position one candidate or another has, and they don’t even know what their public positions are. They vote on a basis of – this person seems like very sincere, this person seems like the kind of a nice guy.
How do we have the American empire of 300 million people going around the planet plundering other countries, invading them, long list of horrors. And the reason the Americans are not engaged in the decision making process is because all this goes straight through to Wall Street, big oil companies, big farmer, big healthcare and particularly the military-industrial complex.
They buy the elections and what we have in Washington, basically, is just kind of theatrics that is presented for the TV cameras.
And people still believe it?
No, they don’t. That’s what is interesting. The recent public opinion polls have also shown that the American opinion of Congress is the lowest it’s ever been. For decades they’ve been asking that question. In 1973 43% of American people polled said – our Congress is doing a good job. Today, it is 7%. It can’t get much lower than that, and yet it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what people think.
So, in terms of your question, the American people, they are furious with Congress, they have a very low approval rating of them and they are frustrated, I would say, in the sense that they know that they are being ignored. The top three issues right now, and this is a public opinion poll from a few days ago, the top three issues for Americans are jobs and wages, healthcare and education. And none of that is being addressed by Congress or the President. They avoid those issues, they don’t go anywhere near them.
Sarah Palin is announcing that she is supporting the impeachment of Obama, because Obama is not handling the immigration concerns at the Mexico-US border. People don’t even care about it. It is not even anywhere near on the radar for Americans.