Poll: Pessimism in the US about the state of democracy

WASHINGTON (HPD) — An HPD-NORC poll released Wednesday reveals the pessimism many Americans feel about the state of democracy and how its representatives are chosen, nearly two years after a presidential election that led to false claims of widespread fraud. and a violent assault on the Capitol, the seat of Congress.

Barely half of those surveyed express confidence that there will be a reliable recount of the votes in the upcoming legislative elections next month. Only 9% think that democracy is working “extremely well” or “very well”, while 52% say that it is not working well.

68% of Republicans say it is not working well, compared to 32% two years ago. By contrast, the proportion of Democrats who view the state of democracy poorly has fallen from 63% two years ago to 40% today.

After each presidential election, members of the losing party are often disillusioned. The effect of 2020 has been deeper, fueled by lies from then-President Donald Trump and his allies that the Democrats stole the election.

There is no evidence of widespread fraud or tampering with the voting machines. Extensive investigations in key states upheld Democrat Joe Biden’s win, and judges, including Trump’s appointees, dismissed numerous lawsuits against the results. Trump’s own Attorney General, William Barr, declared that the allegations were false.

The despair about democracy is the product of decades of growing polarization in elections, from presidential and legislative to very local ones, like those for school boards.

Barely 25% of American adults—the figures are similar for Republicans and Democrats—express optimism about the way in which the governors are chosen, while 43% express pessimism. 31% do not express mood.

The poll found that a large segment of Republicans — 58% — still believe that Biden’s election was not legitimate. In July 2021 it was 66%.

Forty-seven percent of those surveyed say they are “great” or “fairly” confident that there will be an accurate count of votes in the November presidential midterm elections. Most confident are Democrats, 74% of whom express high confidence. On the Republican side, the results are mixed: 25% express high confidence, 30% moderate confidence, and 45% little or no confidence.

The erosion of trust follows two years of lies by Trump and his allies about the 2020 presidential election and the spread of conspiracy theories about voting machines.

Stories of mail-in ballots mysteriously altering totals have been a persistent source of misinformation. The results announced at the end of election day are unofficial and frequently incomplete. It is normal for the count to continue for days, as ballots arriving in the mail are counted and added to the total.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge increase in voting by mail, as voters chose to avoid crowded sites. A large number of those ballots delayed results, as election offices took steps to verify them and ensure the total matched that of registered voters.


The survey of 1,121 adults was conducted Oct. 6-10 with a sample from NORC’s AmeriSpeak probabilistic panel, designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of error is plus/minus 3.8 percentage points.

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