Americans want economic and political overhauls

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  • Most Americans polled in a Pew survey wanted big changes in America’s economic, political, and health care systems.
  • Despite widespread discontent, few Americans have indicated that they are convinced such changes could happen.
  • Americans were generally more dissatisfied than residents of other advanced economies surveyed by Pew.

As the post-pandemic economy begins to take shape, most Americans seem to be hoping it will be very different from where it is now.

A majority of Americans polled in February said they wanted major changes or comprehensive reforms in much of the functioning of the United States, according to a Pew Research Center report, which included surveys of people in more than a dozen advanced economies around the world. Eighty-five percent of American adults polled said they wanted an overhaul of the country’s political systems, while 66% said they wanted major changes in the U.S. economy. Just over three-quarters of those polled said major reform of the country’s health systems was needed.

Americans surveyed were generally more dissatisfied with the government than residents of other advanced economies surveyed. Desires to change political systems were higher only in Spain and Italy, with 86% and 89% of respective residents wanting major overhauls.

Only residents of South Korea, Greece, Spain and Italy were more dissatisfied with their national economies than Americans. The United States had the second highest proportion of people calling for health care reform, second only to Greece.

BENCH


Pew Research Center


The results also reveal a grim outlook among Americans as the country heads for economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The United States is overtaking the recovery of many other countries as rising immunization rates fueled reopening and strong consumer spending. U.S. economic output has already fully recovered from its pandemic-era slump, and officials say the country is expected to return to full employment next year.

However, the February survey does not reflect these latest improvements. The investigation period covers the period when virus cases remained high, labor shortages hampered hiring, and inflation hit decade highs. While the recovery was underway, new obstacles were slowing it down.

And while most Americans said they wanted major changes across the country, few seemed optimistic that these revisions could take place. 85% of those polled said they wanted major political reform in the United States, but only 28% expressed confidence that the system could change.

Part of the pessimism stems from partisan conflicts and a difficult political climate, the Pew survey says. The desires to overhaul certain systems are very different between Democrats and Republicans. While 80% of Democrats said the economic system needed a complete overhaul, only half of Republicans said the same. And where 39% of Democrats wanted major changes in health care, about half of Republicans agreed.

The partisan division is no clearer than in the 50-50 split Senate. Democrats have struggled to push through much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda as Republicans block efforts with filibuster. Some of Biden’s social spending plans have been approved thanks to the lengthy reconciliation process, which requires a majority of 50 votes. Yet the complicated process can only be used a limited number of times, and infighting between moderate and progressive Democrats also poses a challenge to Biden’s spending ambitions.

Partisan divisions are part of the reason why so many Americans crave an overhaul, Pew said. Nine in ten Americans see conflicts between members of different political parties intensifying “discontent with the state of democracy and a strong desire for political reform,” according to Pew. Only 41% of people polled in the United States said they were satisfied with how democracy works.

Overall, the survey paints a picture of a country plagued by mass discontent. Few Americans reported feeling satisfied with the country’s political, economic, or health systems. Yet most of those who want major change are not optimistic about its possibility and show little faith in the country’s democratic processes.


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