Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority


Voters overwhelmingly believe that American democracy is under threat but seem remarkably apathetic about that danger, and few call it the nation’s most pressing problem, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.

In fact, more than a third of independent voters and a smaller but notable contingent of Democrats said they were open to supporting candidates who reject the legitimacy of the 2020 election, as they attributed more urgency to their concerns about the economy than to them. fear of the fate of the country’s political system.

The election doubts that have tainted American politics since the 2020 contest show every sign of lingering well into the future, the poll suggested: 28 percent of all voters, including 41 percent of Republicans, said they had little to none. had confidence in the accuracy of this year’s midterm elections.

Political disagreements seem to permeate the fabric of everyday life. Fourteen percent of voters said political views revealed a lot about whether someone is a good person, while 34 percent said it revealed a little. Nearly one in five said political differences had damaged relationships with friends or family.

“I agree that the biggest threat is the very survival of our democracy, but it is the division that causes this threat,” said Ben Johnson, 33, a New Orleans filmmaker and a Democrat. “It feels like people on both sides are no longer in agreement on the facts. We can’t meet halfway if we can’t agree on simple facts. If you can’t agree on the facts, you don’t move forward and you move on as a country.”

The poll found that voters filtered their belief in democracy through a highly partisan lens. A majority of voters in both parties called the opposing party a “major threat to democracy”.

Most Republicans said President Biden, the mainstream media, the federal government and mail voting were among the dangers. Most Democrats mentioned Donald J. Trump, while a large proportion of the party’s voters also said the Supreme Court and the Electoral College posed a threat to democracy.

Seventy-one percent of voters said democracy was in danger, but only 7 percent called it the top problem facing the country.

These seemingly contradictory views — that voters could be so suspicious of each other and the fundamental institutions of American democracy, while also expressing little urgency to address those concerns — may reflect, in part, long-standing frustrations and cynicism toward government.

Still, the vast majority, 81 percent, of voters who saw democracy as threatened thought the country could solve the problem by using existing laws and institutions, rather than “breaking the law,” according to the poll. Those who said violence would be necessary were a small minority.

“If we’re just talking about freedom, having freedom, and having a say in our choices, I think we still have that,” said Audra Janes, 37, a Republican from Garnavillo, Iowa. She added: “I think we should stop trying to rewrite the constitution and just read it again.”

Overall, voters’ wider frustration with a political system that many see as dangerously divided and corrupt has made them pessimistic that the country will be able to come together to solve its problems no matter which party wins in November. .

The poll’s findings bolster the idea that for many Americans, this year’s midterm elections will be largely defined by rising inflation and other economic problems — leaving threats to the country’s democratic institutions lurking in voters’ minds.

The deep mistrust of the election, especially among Republicans, points to the lingering effects of the lies and conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election fueled by Mr. Trump and his supporters.

How Times reporters cover politics. We trust that our journalists are independent observers. So while Times employees may vote, they may not support or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, a political candidate or election cause.

Seventy-one percent of Republicans said they would comfortably vote for a candidate who thought that year’s election had been stolen, as did 37 percent of independent voters and a remarkable 12 percent of Democrats.

Even among voters who believe Biden legitimately won, 19 percent were comfortable casting a vote for a candidate who believed the election was stolen. That number included 10 percent of Democrats, 22 percent of Independents and 43 percent of Republicans who believed the 2020 election was fair.

Voters also showed a bipartisan willingness to support a president who goes “beyond existing rules”: A third, including similar shares in both parties, said presidents should do what they think is best, even if it is would break the rules.

Twenty-six percent of voters said they had heard about “2000 Mules,” a widely debunked film that claimed to show absentee ballots were “filled” in drop boxes to help Democrats in 2020. Of those who had heard about the film, 34 percent thought it believable, and 45 percent said they didn’t know enough to say. Only 2 percent of Republicans who had heard about the film did not find it credible.

Only 4 percent of voters said they found credible QAnon conspiracy theories, which make bizarre false claims about a satanic cult of Democrats, but the vast majority of Republicans, 73 percent, said they didn’t know enough about the theories to say, rather than rejecting them outright.

Days after the early voting began, about four in ten Republican voters said they were not confident that the 2022 results would be accurate — though polls show their party favored to gain control of the House and also the Senate could take back.

Thirteen percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents shared a similar mistrust of this year’s final results.

Republican voters’ suspicions about the election process were underlined by their deep distrust of ballots. While 72 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents said mail voting posed no threat to democracy at all, 55 percent of Republicans called the practice a serious danger.

“I just don’t believe in the people counting it,” Teresa Fogt, 61, a Republican from Sidney, Ohio, said of election officials, arguing that the 2020 election was rigged and Democrats would try to open other offices this year. to steal .

She added: “It’s hard for me to believe that more American citizens would vote for Joe Biden than for Donald Trump. Joe Biden is an idiot. I don’t know him personally and he’s probably a good person, but as president he’s an idiot.”

Democratic voters named the economy and inflation as their top concerns, prioritizing democracy and other issues such as access to abortion. However, some saw the problems as going hand in hand.

“What’s the problem, where you see the anger, is the shrinkage of the middle class,” said Jeffrey Valfer, 49, a Democrat from Patchogue, NY. He added: “Once you dig into what we need to do to rebuild this country’s middle class, that should solve a lot of the problems you see. It should allay a lot of concerns about our democracy. ”

Independent voters were far more concerned about matters other than democracy, and some were willing to look beyond the candidates’ rejection if their positions matched other policies.

“I don’t believe their opinion on whether the election was quoted or stolen is not important,” said Michael Sprang, 47, a senior electronics engineer and independent from Jackson, Michigan. “I’m much more concerned about their stance on policies that really matter.”

He added: “I’m more concerned about how you feel about the Second Amendment. What do you think of the First Amendment? What do you think of the state of the economy?”

The Times/Siena survey of 792 registered voters nationwide was conducted by telephone using live operators from October 9 to October 12, 2022. The margin of sampling among registered voters is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. The topline is available here, and the crosstabs and methodology are available here.