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Mood of the Nation Poll

Traditional polling forces citizens to place themselves into set categories, even on issues in which they are uninformed and uninterested. The McCourtney Mood of the Nation poll gives citizens a series of open-ended questions, allowing them to answer in their own words—saying what is on their minds, what is important to them, and thereby providing a unique window on contemporary American politics. 

Prof. Michael Nelson writes about new polling data from MID's Mood of The Nation Poll

Sep 22, 2017

In Trump's America, is the Supreme Court still seen as legitimate?


File 20170921 8242 br8aby U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Michael Nelson, Pennsylvania State University; Eric Plutzer, Pennsylvania State University, and Michael Berkman, Pennsylvania State University

On Oct. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. The justices may rule that Trump has exceeded his constitutional authority, or they may dodge the issue entirely, saying that the travel ban’s scheduled Sept. 24 end date takes the decision out of the court’s hands.

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, some Americans will agree and others will not. And whatever the decision, the court will expect the president to comply with its ruling. Political leaders usually follow court decisions they disagree with out of a sense of duty: They believe the Supreme Court’s decisions deserve respect because obedience to the law is an essential feature of democracy. Political scientists call this belief “legitimacy.”

Research suggests that the U.S. Supreme Court’s legitimacy is high and holds steady, even when it makes decisions the public dislikes.

But is this true in the midst of our current political turmoil?

We set out to find the answer. Here’s what we found.

The Supreme Court’s broad support

We asked a representative sample of Americans about the U.S. Supreme Court’s legitimacy in a recent Penn State McCourtney Mood of the Nation Poll. Specifically, we asked citizens about what they would want to do if the Supreme Court began making many unpopular decisions.

Only a few Americans would want to eliminate the Supreme Court altogether. About 20 percent would endorse narrowing the scope of the court by limiting the types of cases it is able to decide. And about 32 percent felt that even if the court made unpopular decisions, we should leave it alone. The margin of error for these results was ± 4.2 percent.

The largest group of respondents – 44 percent – endorsed the idea that justices should be periodically reappointed rather than serving life terms. Reappointment procedures are already used for many state supreme courts, including those in New Jersey, South Carolina and Virginia. Women, African-Americans and Americans over 65 were especially likely to endorse periodic reappointment.

After respondents gave their answers, we asked them to explain their choices in their own words. These responses provide a richer description of how ordinary citizens think about the judicial branch of our government.

In their own words

Citizens expressed concern about the Supreme Court’s accumulation of power and were mindful of its role in the system of checks and balances. Many who supported periodic reappointment focused on the inflexibility of current justices. Many characterized sitting justices as “old-fashioned,” “out of touch” and “unable to keep up with the times.”

Many mentioned the need for “new ideas” and more “open-minded justices.” A 52-year-old independent from Missouri summed it up this way: “No one should serve for life. In anything.”

A sizable number felt that the court’s decisions should fall more closely in line with public opinion on individual cases, illustrating a longstanding debate in the U.S. about the ideal level of political independence for the judicial branch. Research on the Supreme Court appointment process suggests that periodic reappointment may satisfy these concerns. If each president is able to appoint a set number of justices, rather than waiting until there is a vacancy due to death or retirement, the court’s membership might better reflect the recent political climate.

Perhaps the most striking pattern in the answers we received is the lack of polarization. There was some modest difference – for example, Democrats were a little more likely to favor reforms of all kinds. However, supporters of reappointment and supporters of that status quo included large numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

We see no evidence that Trump’s rhetoric about judiciary legitimacy has created two hostile camps with widely differing views on the court. This is consistent with recent academic research on the topic, suggesting the possibility that future public debates about judicial reforms can be multipartisan, reasoned and thoughtful.

The ConversationMost importantly, the poll’s results show that the Supreme Court is broadly supported by the American people. Even at a point in history where support for other political institutions is low, we can expect that the vast majority of Americans will respect the court’s decisions on the controversial issues it faces this term.

Michael Nelson, Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early Career Professor in Political Science and Affiliate Law Faculty, Pennsylvania State University; Eric Plutzer, Professor of Political Science, Pennsylvania State University, and Michael Berkman, Professor Political Science and Director of McCourtney Institute for Democracy, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

POLL REPORT: Americans think shorter terms might improve the Supreme Court

Sep 19, 2017

Michael Nelson, Michael Berkman, and Eric Plutzer

US Supreme Court decisions are sometimes unpopular, but the Court enjoys legitimacy: even when the Court issues controversial decisions on issues such as campaign finance, affirmative action, voting rights, and same-sex marriage, citizens who disagree with the decision respect it and comply as a matter of civic duty.

However, President Trump has been increasingly vocal about his occasional dislike for the judicial system, even criticizing some justices by name. Most recently, Donald Trump issued a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County convicted of contempt of court for violating the 5th and 14th Amendment rights of Arizona citizens and ignoring a federal judge’s orders that he stop doing so.

Click to View Americans think shorter terms might improve the Supreme Court

TREND REPORT: Like everything else in politics, the mood of the nation is highly polarized

Jun 13, 2017

Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman

Almost a year ago, Penn State’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy embarked on a mission to use the power of public opinion polls and new information technologies to let ordinary citizens tell us how American political life made them feel.  Since then, in four major polls, we have asked a representative of 4,000 Americans to tell us – in their own words – what makes them proud, what makes them angry, what makes them hopeful, and what makes them worried.

This report utilizes data from the first four Mood of the Nation polls to highlight trends in the national mood and to highlight the specific people, groups and events that Americans are passionate about.  

Click to View Trends in the Mood of the Nation Report

POLL REPORT: Americans overwhelmingly support Constitutional checks on the presidency, even in addressing terrorism

Jun 13, 2017

Michael Nelson, Michael Berkman, and Eric Plutzer

During the first 100 days in office, the new President found himself unable to persuade his own party’s Congressional delegation to support his replacement for Obama Care, and suffered setbacks in federal courts.

For many, this is evidence that the nation’s system of checks and balances is operating as it should. But the system of checks and balances depends not only on the Constitution and legal precedent.  It requires the support of the American people.  In that light, the McCourtney Mood of the Nation Poll asked a representative sample of Americans to tell us how they feel about Congress and the Supreme Court placing checks on presidential power.

Click to View Checks and Balances Poll Report

POLL REPORT: Most voters satisfied with their choices, but 12% would vote differently today.

Jun 13, 2017

Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman

Everyone experiences buyer’s remorse at some point.  We might wish we had not splurged on the latest fashions, or sorry we settled for a practical car when we wanted one with a lot more performance.  In politics, too, voters can come to regret their choices. 

However, a McCourtney Mood of the Nation Poll shows that, only 12% (± 2.6%) of registered voters wished they could change their vote choice.

Click to View Most Voters Satisfied Poll Report

New poll: only 3% of Trump voters regret their vote

Jun 13, 2017

Exerpt from the Washington Post -

Within weeks of the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, social media posts expressing voters’ second thoughts began trending. While some Donald Trump voters felt he was backtracking on initial hard-line positions, the Huffington Post and other websites reported on hashtags such as #Trumpgrets — used by voters irked that his campaign persona was not simply an act to win votes. A subsequent wave of regretful Trump voters tweeted about executive orders they perceived as misguided and dangerous.

Even more nuanced mainstream news stories included such headlines as “These Iowans voted for Trump. Many of them are already disappointed” or comments that “a significant segment of Trump’s coalition is not entirely enchanted with his actions or public persona.”

In contrast, polls seem to suggest that the 45th president enjoys historically high approval ratings among members of his party. Other journalists report continuing enthusiasm from the small towns that delivered his strongest electoral support.

Read the full story here.

PSU President interviews Plutzer and Berkman about Mood of the Nation Poll

Jun 13, 2017

Penn State President Eric. J. Barron spoke with Eric Plutzer, director of the McCourtney Mood of the Nation Poll, and Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy about the MID's Mood of the Nation Poll. They talked about what the poll reveals about the U.S. electorate during a recent episode of WPSU Penn State’s “Digging Deeper”  

WPSU – PBS/NPR Member Station serving central Pennsylvania » The Mood of the Nation

Commentary: Voters not showing much pride in Clinton, Trump

Jun 13, 2017

Originally Posted: July 30, 2016

With Hillary Clinton accepting the Democratic nomination in Philadelphia this week, we might expect that Americans, and especially women, are taking pride in her historic achievement as the first woman to lead a major party ticket. That is certainly what happened in 2008 when Americans of all stripes expressed pride that the nation had nominated its first African American candidate.

Even if they did not support Barack Obama, many Americans recognized the historic nature of the election. However, a recent Mood of the Nation Poll by Penn State's McCourtney Institute for Democracy shows that going into the Democratic convention, this was not the case.

The scientific poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans. It allowed ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds without restricting them to a small number of predetermined answers.

Some Clinton supporters tied the pride they have in their party directly to the historic nature of her campaign. "I am proud that we have a black president," said a 48-year-old woman from Illinois, "and I am proud that our next president will most likely be a woman." However, these and similar statements were somewhat unusual.

Our results show that a significant majority of Americans are not particularly proud of either candidate. Rather, many expressed disappointment in both of them. As one 77-year-old woman from California put it, there was "not much" that made her hopeful about politics, but she was ashamed that "we have to choose between Clinton and Trump." Overall, fewer than 5 percent of our sample took pride in either Donald Trump or Clinton.

We did find that Clinton is much less likely to be viewed negatively than Trump: He was more likely to be mentioned in reference to what makes people angry, ashamed, or worried than Clinton. As one 30-year-old African American man, who identifies as an independent, said when asked what he was ashamed of in American politics, "Donald Trump and his buffoonery."

However, given the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy, it is striking that not only are Americans not feeling pride in that milestone, but they are also far more likely to be hopeful about Trump than about her. One Trump supporter, a 39-year-old man who also identifies as an independent, referred to the candidate as "a true American stepping into the world of politics to save our nation from the corrupt politicians and Obama the Terrible!" This finding is evidence of the polarizing nature of Trump's candidacy - nobody is ambivalent about him. But where is the pride and hope around Clinton's history-making campaign?

We might expect that Clinton is at least generating positive emotions among women. But again, we see little evidence of this. More typical were the sentiments of a 41-year-old woman from California who, when asked what made her angry in American politics, responded, "I am angry that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. I get angry every time I hear him speak, and I can't believe he has gotten this far in the presidential race." Women are supporting Clinton because of their strong distaste for Trump, not their pride and hope in Clinton herself.

Certainly one goal of Democrats this week was to emphasize the historic nature of Clinton's nomination. Another goal will be to make sure that this message is conveyed to men and women, young and old. If they are successful, we should see it reflected in our next poll that more people - women in particular - are taking pride and seeing hope in Clinton's historic campaign.

Michael Berkman is a professor of political science at Penn State.

Christopher Beem is the managing director of the McCourtney Institute of Democracy at Penn State.

Poll reveals 3 types of Independents

Jun 13, 2017

MID director Michael Berkman delves into McCourtney Poll data to describe three kinds of independents, and to outline the impact they are likely to make in the upcoming presidential election

Aug 29, 2016

Poll reveals 3 types of Independents




          Editor’s note: The Focus on Research column highlights different research projects and topics being explored at Penn State. Each column will feature the work of a different researcher from across all disciplines.


Political conventions focus attention on strong partisans. But not all Americans call themselves Democrats or Republicans, or for that matter Libertarians or Greens. Many prefer to think of themselves as Independents.


With the McCourtney “Mood of the Nation Poll,” we can look at these Independents in a unique way. The poll is a scientific survey that allows ordinary citizens to tell us what is on their minds, without being restricted to a small number of predetermined answers. It also includes standard polling questions such as party identification, allowing us to see who these independents are and what are they thinking about this campaign. The most recent poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans between June 15-22.

Determining who is an Independent is not straightforward. CNN, in its post-convention survey, reports that “28 percent described themselves as Democrats, 24 percent described themselves as Republicans, and 48 percent described themselves as independents or members of another party.” This is not far from our survey. Our breakdown shows a greater number of Independents (35 percent) than Republicans or Democrats.

That’s a lot of Independents. But when we dig deeper, we find that they’re not all the same. There are actually three groups of independents: Those who lean Democratic, those who lean Republican and what we might call “pure” Independents.

Leaners tend to vote as a partisan but do not necessarily want to call themselves one. For example, in our poll, 10 percent of the population calls itself Independent, but support Hillary Clinton at roughly the same rate as Democrats (this is before the convention), while they are even less supportive of Donald Trump then those who call themselves Democrats. The same is true among Republican-leaning Independents. They support Trump in even greater numbers than pure Republicans, and Clinton even less so.

Once we remove the leaners there are actually fewer than 20 percent of the population who we can call true Independents. This group is still in play, and important for creating a winning majority. What do we know about them?

Based on our data we can conclude the following:

▪ Relative to partisans and partisan leaners, true Independents are more likely to call themselves moderate. As the parties have polarized and sorted themselves into ideological camps, pure Independents are likely uncomfortable in either party.


▪ They are younger than either party. Absent a long voting history, these younger voters have not yet found a partisan identity, and perhaps never will.


▪ They are less politically engaged: True Independents are less likely to be registered to vote (and therefore less likely to vote), and they acknowledge paying less attention to the news.


But our open-ended questions allow us to go deeper. In particular, we asked them what, if anything, made them hopeful about American politics, and what made them angry. Their answers suggest they are greatly hostile toward contemporary American politics, and they have little hope that this election will improve things.

When asked what they were angry about, pure Independents were most likely to answer simply “everything.” But after that, they go through a series of responses that suggest disillusionment with politics. Close to half of them (47 percent) gave an answer that suggested anger with politicians or the system.

They think the system is rigged, they consider politicians to be liars who break promises, and they are angry about what they see as bickering and fighting among politicians.

These quotes were typical of the Independents we surveyed:

▪ A 52 year-old woman and self-described “homekeeper” from Minnesota who pays little attention to politics and who is not registered to vote wrote: “Nobody really listens they say what they think you want to hear and make promises they can’t keep. They need to remember everyone has to work together to get things done and they can’t make a blanket statement to try to cover everything, they have to work ach (sic) problem out and know they are doing the best they can.”


▪ A 62 year-old retired man from California who pays attention to politics “some of the time,” calls himself liberal and who is registered to vote wrote: “I hate it when they reveal each other’s dirty laundry, especially when they all are guilty of lying, and not living up to their promises.”

Given Independents’ hostility to politics, they seem like they could be ripe for the picking by the Trump campaign. His is an “outsider” campaign that regularly disparages traditional politics, and Clinton is a long-standing practitioner. Our latest poll shows that Trump is leading in this group.

On the other hand, these pure Independents hold out very little hope for American politics. Unlike partisans — who can point with some hope to their party’s candidate winning — when we asked pure Independents what they were hopeful about, a whopping 61 percent said “nothing.” Given that fewer Independents are registered and many do not pay attention to politics, they are far from a sure bet.

As the election proceeds, we will continue to track this group, and see whether either campaign can address their concerns about a system that is corrupt and not working, and break through their prevailing sense of hopelessness.


Michael Berkman is director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and a professor of political science.

Mood of the Nation Press Release

Jun 13, 2017

Old Main put out this news release to describe the features of the Mood Of The Nation Poll.

Jul 20, 2016


New Penn State Poll analyzes ‘Mood of the Nation’

McCourtney Institute researchers use open-ended questions to find Americans divided along party lines on Orlando shooting, gun control


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Democrats and Republicans reacted differently to the news of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last month, according to a new “Mood of the Nation Poll” by Penn State’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy.  


The poll found that Democrats were more likely to be angry about the shooting then were Republicans; 42 percent of Democrats specifically mentioned the Orlando shooting when asked about what made them angry, compared to 27 percent of Republicans.

The new scientific poll posed a series of open-ended questions to a representative sample of 1,000 Americans between June 15 and June 22. Respondents were asked what in the news made them angry, ashamed, proud and hopeful.


While the subject of the Orlando shooting wasn’t included in the questions, researchers Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute, and Eric Plutzer, director of the McCourtney Mood of the Nation Poll, were not surprised that a majority of respondents had feelings of anger and pride related to the June 12 tragedy since it was still the subject of many news stories. 


Many Democrats who mentioned Orlando talked about the failure to better control guns, the political strength of the NRA, the intransigence of the Republican leadership to support greater regulation of guns and Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s response to the shooting. Republican respondents were angry at the media’s coverage of the event, at Democrat’s perceived efforts to use this tragedy to push for gun control and at the failure of both to focus on the fact that the shooter was a radical Muslim.

The poll highlighted positive emotions from respondents, too. Republicans tended to focus on individual acts of generosity and bravery, and the responses of businesses and churches, referencing first responders, blood donation drives and several mentions lauding Chik-fil-A for donating food. Independents and Democrats, in contrast, often mentioned support of the LGBT community specifically.


“It was the vision of George Gallup, and other pioneering pollsters, that scientific opinion polls would contribute to democracy by amplifying the ‘voice of the people,’” Plutzer said. “But traditional polling has always had two limitations: tendency to focus only on the ‘horse race’ and forcing citizens to place themselves into categories, even on issues about which they are uninformed or uninterested.


“Our poll addresses both of these issues by allowing citizens to answer a series of open-ended questions in their own words — this reveals what is on their minds, what is important to them and provides a unique window on politics today.”


Here are some example responses:

— A 27-year-old Democratic man from Pennsylvania wrote, “another mass shooting and NRA members standing in the way of sensible gun control,” while a 24-year-old Democratic man from Illinois wrote that he was very ashamed because “the mass killings in Orlando that should've been much more prevantable [sic] if not for republican politicians being bought by the NRA.”
— A 41-year-old Republican man from California said he was angry about the “Orlando shooting and law abiding people getting punished for it by liberals.” And many Republicans reflected the opinion of this 26-year-old Republican man from Iowa who wrote he was angry about the “media’s continued decision to ignore the fact he pledged his allegiance to ISIS.”  
— A 51-year-old Republican woman from California who said what made her angry was “Obama and Democrats blaming a terrorist attack on guns rather than fanatical or radical religious ideology.”
— A 49-year-old Independent man from Maryland said he was proud of the “Overwhelming Positive, and United Support of The LGBT Community after the Orlando Terrorist Attacks!” and a 62-year-old Democratic woman from Illinois said she was proud of how people “in the US and around the world” have “supported the LGBT community since the Orlando massacre.”