Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The American flag is displayed during West Haven Days youth rodeo in West Haven on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Political polls consistently report Republicans and Democrats are more ideologically divided than ever before — and polarization, in today's climate, often begets antagonism. That division can easily lead to despair; yet, the triumph of America is, and has always been, a sense of persistent optimism that transcends even the worst of circumstances.

Gratefully, a litany of other polls reveals that this optimism about the future is still an abiding force today. A Scott Rasmussen poll from earlier this month found a majority of Americans believe the country’s best days are still ahead, and most Americans believe future generations will have it better than their parents, according to a Gallup survey.

It is wonderful that so many people still feel a sense of hope and optimism about the future — that the best is yet to come for themselves and their children. But in almost every study, that rosy picture was paired with a sense of despair or despondency regarding the dysfunction of the American political system.

It’s clear converting optimism into constructive political engagement is a task for the country. In the Scott Rasmussen poll, 74 percent of respondents said they felt the American political system is “badly broken.” What is needed now, especially heading into 2020 debates and elections, is an affirmation that Americans still have a say in determining legislation and political representation — indeed, that they own the political system. America’s is a government by and for the people, not one disconnected from their own sense of self-determination.

Remembering the legislative strides made on improving social circumstances in recent decades is a good start to employing optimism in the political sphere.

Jim Geraghty in the National Review notes some of these wins, which are connected to pragmatic, positive policymaking and generally improve the quality of life. He points out that crime rates have decreased since the 1990s and that drunken driving rates have likewise fallen. He also writes that teen-pregnancy rates are in decline, the abortion rate is the lowest since Roe v. Wade, the infant-mortality rate is getting lower, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

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Geraghty continues: Teenage drug use is down (with the exception of marijuana), and few youths have fallen victim by the national opioid epidemic. Teenage drinking is lower than in the past three decades. And finally, “more than a third of American adults have a four-year college degree, the highest level ever measured by the U.S. Census Bureau."

Not only should the country celebrate these achievements, it should use them as evidence that votes can and do matter in electing officials who can continue to push agendas on a local and federal level that directly affect daily life.

American democracy continues to give citizens the immense privilege of acting out their private hopes and dreams in the public sphere. America shouldn’t lose sight of that — it’s an optimism worth cultivating.