In the wake of Campaign 2000, Rasmussen Research found that just 46
percent of American adults think elections are fair to voters. Only 24
percent think that the government reflects the will of the people.
Sixty-five percent think the federal government has become a special
interest group that looks out primarily for its own interest.
Some pundits may seize upon data like that to suggest that the recent
debacle in Florida has caused Americans to lose faith in our system of
politics and government.
That interpretation would be wrong. It is true that Americans are
cynical about politics and government. However, that cynicism started
long before any of us ever heard of chads and dimples in voting
Between the 1996 and 2000 elections, we asked the same polling
questions several times. On the question of election fairness, we never
found more than 50 percent of voters agreeing with the notion that
elections are fair to voters. The low was 44 percent.
During that same period, we never found more than 32 percent of
adults who believed that the government reflects the will of the people.
The low point on that scale was 21 percent.
As for the government being a special interest group, the range was
from a low of 58 percent who believed that statement to a high of 72
Putting this data into context follows the same theme that I wrote
about last week. In that column, I attempted to put recent polling about
the Supreme Court in context. My firm and many others found a nation
divided along partisan lines over the Supreme Court’s decision that
brought an end to Campaign 2000. However, while some pundits argued that
this was dangerous new territory for the court, I pointed out that this
was fairly typical. Many Supreme Court rulings draw even less popular
support and are perceived through a partisan lens.
There’s another part of the story that’s important for consumers of
polling data to understand. While the overall numbers have not changed
much as a result of the recent election, partisan perspectives have
shifted. Republicans are now less cynical than before about the process
and Democrats are more cynical.
In other words, people who root for the winning political party think
the election was more fair than those whose team lost. Partisanship
reigns among the activists.
In the coming weeks, months, and years, we will hear advocates of
various policies call for change by citing the aftermath of election
2000. Many will cite polling data to bolster their claims. Only a few
such claims will be relevant.
For example, three out of four Americans now support proposals that
would require voters to show photo ID’s before casting their ballots.
Similar levels of support exist for establishing standard ballots and
recount procedures. Support for these reforms is high probably because
it appears directly related to some of the issues raised during the
On the other hand, advocates may try to use the recent election to
urge other electoral information such as public funding for all
campaigns. However, just 28 percent of American adults support this
approach and Recount 2000 did nothing to change the level of public
support. The reason for the lack of change is probably that the problems
highlighted in Florida had nothing to do with campaign finance and
everything to do with voting mechanics.
Whatever the issues, it will be important to remember that public
cynicism about politics and government began long before Recount 2000.
It’s as American as mom and apple pie.