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Viewpoint: Boise State study reveals high anxiety about democracy in America

In a politically polarized time, the Frank Church Institute surveyed people in the Mountain West about their perceptions of government, politics and democracy.

BOISE, Idaho — We are living in a time of palpable political polarization. A recent Boise State University public opinion survey gives valuable insight into that. It reveals high anxiety about government, politics and democracy in America.

The Frank Church Institute at Boise State conducted the "Perceptions of Democracy" survey between September 24 and October 26 of 2021. Researchers polled 1,899 adults in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to find out how they feel about the state of democracy in America, perceptions on common ground, media and misinformation, the 2020 election and views on the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Here are a few examples of the questions and results:

  •  50% of adults surveyed in the five states said they are very concerned about the health of democracy in the United States. Another 35% said they are somewhat concerned. In Idaho, 52% answered very concerned. 35% somewhat concerned.
  •  55% of those surveyed agree with the statement, "The federal government works to benefit other groups of people, but not people like me."
  • Coming on the coming on the heels of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, respondents were asked "Which of the following statements is closer to your opinion, even if neither is exactly right?" 20% in the five states chose the statement "Political violence is justified in a democracy when you believe things have gotten so bad that the government is not acting in the best interests of the people." 58% chose the statement "Political violence is not justified in a democracy, the better solution is the ballot box.
  • As for the 2020 election, the survey asked "Do you believe that former Vice President Joe Biden legitimately defeated incumbent President Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election? 51% of people in the five states answered yes, that Biden legitimately won. 38% answered no. In Idaho it was an even split with 44% answering yes and 44% answering no.

Frank Church Institute Board Member Rod Gramer gave his big takeaway from the survey.

"If you look at the overall survey, it's pretty depressing," Gramer said. "The faith people have in our democracy, the faith they have in our country, the fact that they think that we're really moving in the wrong direction, you know, you have 80 plus percent concerned about the future of democracy. So, at first blush, it's pretty depressing."

Gramer also explained how the institute will use the survey's valuable insight.

"The first thing is we need to get it out to the public," Gramer said. "The second thing is we want to go out and do a listening tour across some of these states and just listen to people and find out firsthand what they're thinking and why they're thinking that and try to see where people can listen to each other and where they can find common ground on the issues because I believe when people really stop and think about it there's not that much difference. We all love this country, we all love this state, we all love democracy, we all know it's the best form of government. So we have a lot to build on, but we've got to start talking to each other, we've got to start listening to each other, and we've got to start finding those things we can agree on."

The survey asked a wide range of questions. You can check out the whole "Perceptions of Democracy" survey here.

In this edition of Viewpoint, Gramer also broke down some of the other findings in the survey, including whether people of different political viewpoints can talk to one another about politics, and beliefs about misrepresentation of facts in the news.

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. right after Meet the Press on KTVB.

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