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65% Now Hold Populist, or Mainstream, Views

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mainstream Americans tend to trust the wisdom of the crowd more than their political leaders and are skeptical of both big government and big business (see crosstabs). While Republicans and unaffiliated voters are more likely to hold Mainstream views than Democrats, a majority of those in the president’s party (51%) hold such views.

Only four percent (4%) now support the Political Class. These voters tend to trust political leaders more than the public at large and are far less skeptical about government.

When leaners are included, 81% are in the Mainstream category, and 12% support the Political Class.

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Polling conducted from January 18 through January 24 found that 76% of voters generally trust the American people more than political leaders on important national issues. Seventy-one percent (71%) view the federal government as a special interest group, and 70% believe that the government and big business typically work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors. On each question, a majority of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters share those views.

These results help explain why most voters are angry at the policies of the federal government, and most think that neither political party understands what the country needs.

“The American people don’t want to be governed from the left, the right or the center. The American people want to govern themselves," says Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “The American attachment to self-governance runs deep. It is one of our nation’s cherished core values and an important part of our cultural DNA.”

In his new book, In Search of Self-Governance, Rasmussen explains, ““In the clique that revolves around Washington, DC, and Wall Street, our treasured heritage has been diminished almost beyond recognition. In that world, some see self-governance as little more than allowing voters to choose which of two politicians will rule over them. Others in that elite environment are even more brazen and see self-governance as a problem to be overcome.”

The book can be ordered on the Rasmussen Reports site or at Amazon.com.

The Political Class Index is based on three questions. All three clearly address populist tendencies and perspectives, all three have strong public support, and, for all three questions, the populist perspective is shared by a majority of Democrats, Republicans and those not affiliated with either of the major parties. We have asked the questions before, and the results change little whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge of the government.

Over time, we have found that those with Mainstream views often have a very different perspective from those who support the Political Class. In many cases, the gap between the Mainstream view and the Political Class is larger than the gap between Mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

Initially, Rasmussen Reports labeled the groups Populist and Political Class. However, despite the many news stories referring to populist anger over bailouts and other government actions, the labels created confusion for some. In particular, some equated populist attitudes with the views of the late-19th century Populist Party. To avoid that confusion, and since a majority clearly hold skeptical views about the ruling elites, we now label the groups Mainstream and Political Class.

The questions used to calculate the Index are:

-- Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgment do you trust more - the American people or America’s political leaders?

-- Some people believe that the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?

-- Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?

To create a scale, each response earns a plus 1 for the populist answer, a minus 1 for the political class answer, and a 0 for not sure.

Those who score 2 or higher are considered a populist or part of the Mainstream. Those who score -2 or lower are considered to be aligned with the Political Class. Those who score +1 or -1 are considered leaners in one direction or the other.

In practical terms, if someone is classified with the Mainstream, they agree with the mainstream view on at least two of the three questions and don’t agree with the Political Class on any.

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We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

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