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Americans Doubted Democracy Before Trump’s Russia Problem Surfaced

Russian election meddling may be shaking Americans’ faith in government. According to one recent poll, just 16 percent of people truly think their vote matters. But skepticism about U.S. democracy has been high since Nixon’s criminal misbehavior in the 1970s. Analyzing survey data from 1952 to 2016, political scientist Ian Anson of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County found a deep, lasting and surprisingly bipartisan discontent with the American political system.

White House special counsel Robert Mueller recently issued 12 indictments alleging that Russian intelligence agents sought to tilt the vote in Donald Trump’s favor by hacking prominent Democrats during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

The Trump-Russia investigation has exposed flaws in the American democratic system – so much so that, according to many pundits, people now doubt not just the legitimacy of the Trump administration but the very foundations of the country’s political institutions.

According to a July 2018 Brown University opinion poll, only 16 percent of Americans truly believe their vote matters. Just 4 percent think the government listens to their opinion.

News of Russia’s meddling may have inflamed anti-government sentiment, but skepticism about U.S. democracy is not a new phenomenon.

I am part of a team of scholars from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County that studies American popular support for democracy over time. Historic surveys reveal a deep, long-lasting and bipartisan dissatisfaction with the U.S. government that started over three decades ago.

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