By Will Duquette
It is no secret that the United States of America is becoming increasingly polarized, which presents all sorts of problems for the political process – engendering hate, undermining compromise, and encouraging people to skirt processes that might benefit the other side. Given this, we thought it prudent to analyze the thoughts of partisans on campus about the future of democracy in the United States. Although there are numerous interesting findings, two stick out:
- All groups, both political and ideological, acknowledge authoritarian threats to the future of American democracy.
- Denisonians do not have full confidence in the American electoral system.
Denisonians are Just as Polarized as Other Americans
Lest you think we live in a political bubble, it is important to see that we are just as polarized as other Americans. Examining how partisans and ideologues feel toward the Denison Democrats and the Denison Republicans (0=cold/negative, 100=warm/positive). Although not a perfect measure, it is sufficient to see the distribution of political animosity on campus.
There is an incredible separation between the view of the two parties among Strong Republicans and Strong Democrats. The more moderate groups had similar opinions of the Denison Republicans and Democrats. Interestingly, Democrats aren’t necessarily in love with the Democratic Party.
Looking at the political ideologies, we see less polarization. One exception is the Socialists, who are meh about the Democrats but do not like Republicans. Even liberals and conservatives do not seem to hate the other side, reminding us that polarization is less about ideas and more about a team sport (i.e., party affiliation).
Observers have argued that the parties are polarizing over democracy itself, with determined Republican opposition to expanding voting rights. Of course, the January 6th Insurrection was also labeled “legitimate political discourse” by the RNC.
Looking at the political groups, it is clear that there is a great concern for the health of the “great experiment.”’ One group, in particular, stands out: Strong Democrats overwhelmingly believe that the United States is becoming less democratic and more authoritarian. But more generally, almost all political party identifiers, save Republicans, view the state of the United States very poorly, with more than half agreeing that the US is slipping into authoritarianism. 57.4% of Independents on campus agree, to varying degrees, that the United States is becoming more authoritarian; Independents are worth highlighting because they are a group that theoretically has less concrete ties to the two major parties in the United States.
On the ideological font, it is clear that all ideological groups are concerned except for conservatives and the few alt-right identifiers. Not all students believe the United States is becoming more authoritarian. Still, it is extremely concerning to see that 85% of socialists and 75% of progressives believe that the United States is becoming less democratic. When these fears bleed over to the electoral system, we have a lot to worry about.
The results below should raise alarm bells. Denison students do not seem enthusiastic about the future of the United States if they believe, and it appears that they do, that the United States is becoming more authoritarian.
Do Denisonians have confidence in the American electoral system?
The results below are concerning on their own. It clearly shows that in most political groups and in most ideological groups, roughly half of the people are not confident in the American electoral system. That should be concerning to anyone. This is a result that should raise alarm bells and demand change. Granted, Denison is not an appropriate sample population to use to make claims about the country as a whole. Still, it should be concerning that so many students do not have confidence in our elections. These are the future leaders, and there might not be much of a future if these future leaders view the American electoral system negatively.
More specifically, we found three interesting results:
- Libertarians have the most confidence in the American electoral system. This was somewhat surprising to us, as typically, people that identify as libertarian tend to view the government in a negative light.
- Strong Republicans appear to have no confidence in the American electoral system, which is not inherently surprising but is worth noting.
- Although roughly half of the participants from each group (except a few) seem to view the electoral system positively, it was still surprising to see how few people fell into the strongly agreed category. We were extremely surprised to see how few people had absolute confidence in our country’s electoral system.
We have found the results of this analysis to be extremely concerning. Very few Denisonians have much faith in our government, its leaders, and the electoral system. This is not to say that there is no faith present, but there are concerning signs for the future.
There is nothing more important to “the great experiment” than the electoral system. If people lose faith in this system, people stop participating and election results may shift away from their interests. We must do everything we can to protect what we all hold dear. If a significant portion of society loses faith in our electoral system, that would be extremely problematic…civil wars have been started over less. It is difficult to extrapolate these results to the whole country, but if this is, in fact, a representation of what the country is feeling, we need to unite and face the loss of faith in our electoral system.
Will Duquette is a Math and Computer Science Double Major from the Chicago area. Upon graduation, he will move back to Chicago and hopefully develop an adult palette that does not involve boxes and boxes of Annies Mac and Cheese.