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We fail as a nation

Republicans and Democrats agree on few things. But one area where a significant portion of each side agrees is the belief that the country is heading for failure.

Overall, 37% of registered voters say the problems are so bad that we are in danger of failing as a nation, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll.

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Fifty-six percent of Republicans and Republican Independents said we are at risk of such a failure. These kinds of views are more common among voters whose party is no longer in power. But it is also remarkable that fatalists, as we might call them, span the political spectrum. About 20% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they feel the same way.

What they disagree with is about what brought us to this point.

Why Republicans Say the US Is Failing

Republican fatalists, like Republican voters in general, overwhelmingly support former President Donald Trump. This group is largely older—two-thirds of Republicans over 65 say the country is on the verge of collapse—and less educated. They are also more likely than Republican voters in general to get their news from non-Fox conservative media sources such as Newsmax or The Epoch Times.

Many of these gloomy Republicans see the policies of the Biden administration as a way to push the country to the brink of collapse.

“Things are getting very communist,” said Margo Creamer, 72, a Trump supporter from Southern California. “The first day Biden became president, he tore up everything good that happened to Trump; he opened the border – let anyone and everyone in. It’s just insane.

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She added that there was only one way to reverse course: “If Trump doesn’t win in this next election, we will fail as a nation.”

Many Republicans saw the pandemic, and the ensuing economic impact, as one that pushed the country toward failure.

“COVID has awakened everyone to what they can do to us as citizens,” said Dale Bowyer, a Republican in Fulton County, Indiana. “Keeping us in our homes, not being allowed to go to certain places, it was complete control of the United States of America. They think we’re idiots and we don’t notice.”

Why Democrats say the US is in danger of failing

While fewer Democrats see the country on the brink of collapse, gender is the defining characteristic associated with this pessimistic view. Democratic and Republican women are more likely than their male counterparts to feel this way.

“I’ve never seen things as bleak or precarious as they have been in recent years,” said Ann Rubio, a Democrat and undertaker in New York City. “To say it’s a stolen election plus January 6 is terrifying. Now we are taking away a woman’s right to choose. I feel like I’m watching the wheels come off something.”

For many Democrats, specific issues—particularly abortion—are cause for concern about the country’s direction.

Brandon Thompson, 37, a Democrat and veteran living in Tampa, Florida, voiced a litany of concerns about the state of the country: “The regressive laws that are being passed; women do not have access to abortion in half of the country; gerrymandering and disenfranchising people – this sort of thing is happening literally all over the country.

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“If it keeps going like this, this young experiment, this young nation, will fall apart,” he said.

More than just on the wrong track

Pollsters have long asked a simple question to record the country’s temperature: Are things in the US on the right track, or are they headed in the wrong direction?

Americans’ views on this issue have become more polarized in recent years and are often closely tied to the views of the party in power. For example, it is not surprising that currently 85% of Republicans think the country is on the wrong track, compared to 46% of Democrats. Those numbers are often the exact opposite if there is a Republican in the White House.

Views about the direction of the country are also often closely tied to the economic environment. Currently, 65% of Americans say the country is moving in the wrong direction. That’s relatively high historically, though lower than last summer, when inflation peaked and 77% of Americans said the country was moving in the wrong direction. At the height of the recession in 2008, 81% of Americans said the country was heading in the wrong direction.

What seems surprising, however, is the large proportion of voters saying that we are about to fall apart as a nation.

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“We are so far from what this country was founded on,” said William Dickerson, a Republican from Linwood, North Carolina. “Society as a whole has become so self-conscious that we are encroaching on people’s freedoms and the foundation of what makes America great.”

He added: “We tell people what they can and can’t do with their property and we tell people you’re wrong because you feel a certain way.”

Voters contacted for the Times/Siena poll were only told the “fail” question if they said things were going in the wrong direction. And while this is the first time such a question has been asked, the pessimistic responses still seem striking: Two-thirds of Republicans who said the country was moving in the wrong direction said things weren’t just bad — they were that bad that America was in danger of becoming a failed nation.

“Republicans have Trump and others in their party who have undermined their faith in the electoral system,” said Alia Braley, a researcher at Stanford’s Digital Economy Lab who studies attitudes toward democracy. “And if Republicans think democracy is crumbling, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that they will no longer act like citizens of a democracy.”

She added, “Democrats are often surprised to learn that Republicans are as afraid as they are of the future of American democracy, if not more so.”

circa 2023 The New York Times Company

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