Rampant distrust in American democracy persists in 2022
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — during which supporters of Donald Trump, at his urging, violently stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to subvert the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory — American democracy is at risk like never before.
Increasingly, voters are losing faith in our elections, our institutions, and most of all, in the ability of our democracy to survive, according to the findings of a recent survey conducted by our firm, Schoen-Cooperman Research.
The survey — which was conducted among likely 2022 midterm election voters — shows that distrust and pessimism about American democracy have become pervasive problems, and are no longer confined to the extreme fringes of the two political parties.
Indeed, more than one-half (51 percent) of voters say that the U.S. democracy is at risk of extinction — including 49 percent of Democrats and Republicans, as well as 54 percent of Independents. Just one-quarter of voters believe that our democracy is secured for future generations (26 percent).
Concerningly, young Americans — the future leaders of the country — are even more cynical about the future of American democracy. Just one-in-five voters ages 18-29 say that U.S. democracy is secured for future generations (21 percent).
Over the last year, Republicans have tried to rewrite history by downplaying the events of Jan. 6th and continuing to embrace Trump’s “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 election. Republicans’ peddling of this falsehood and legitimizing the behavior of the violent mob that attempted this insurrection has led to dire consequences, our poll finds.
Just 54 percent of Americans believe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election — marking a 10 percent decrease from when we asked this same question in April 2021. Contrary to popular belief, distrust in the 2020 election results doesn’t merely exist on the far-right fringes: just 56 percent of Independent voters surveyed believe that Joe Biden legitimately won the election, while 31 percent do not.
Furthermore, a plurality of Americans believes that there were real cases of fraud in the 2020 election that changed the outcome (47 percent) and a majority believe that there were real instances of voter fraud in the states where additional recounts occurred (58 percent).
We also found that future elections — namely, 2022 and 2024 — will likely be tainted by the same level of deep distrust that existed in 2020.
Three-in-10 Americans are not confident that votes in the 2022 midterm elections will be counted fairly and accurately (31 percent) and a similar share said that if their preferred candidate does not win the 2024 presidential election, they will not trust the results (29 percent).
Beyond uncovering a concerning level of cynicism toward our elections and democratic institutions, our survey also found that Americans are deeply worried about political extremism. An overwhelming majority of Americans are concerned about political extremism (85 percent), including a majority who say they are “very concerned” (53 percent).
Political extremism is the enemy of bipartisan cooperation, and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of allowing the extreme fringe members of their party to infiltrate the mainstream. The political right has embraced conspiracy theories about the Deep State and voter fraud, while the left has entertained socialism and the Defund the Police movement.
As a result, a plurality of voters said they were equally concerned about political extremism from the far-left and far-right (46 percent). Twenty-three percent said they were more concerned about left-wing extremism, while 21 percent say the same about right-wing extremism.
Two-thirds of voters also believe that the country has become more divided over the last year (67 percent), while just 18 percent say we’ve become less divided.
Thus, it follows that 8-in-10 Americans want elected officials to work together to solve problems as opposed to remaining true to their ideological beliefs, even if less gets done — including strong majorities of Democrats (80 percent), Independents (86 percent) and Republicans (75 percent).
Right now, America is at a crossroads: we can heed President Biden’s call in his inaugural address to end our “uncivil war,” or we can follow the path of those on the far-left and the far-right who refuse to compromise. If we take this second path, we will remain divided into two Americas — hating, attacking, and demonizing those who differ with us politically and seeing our government paralyzed by partisan gridlock.
Our survey findings should ultimately serve as a call-to-action to our leaders to come together to support a collective rejection of extremism and a shared renewal of faith in our democracy — indeed, it is only through this collective renewal that America will be able to protect our own democracy and ensure that global democratic values endure for generations to come.
Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman are pollsters and partners with the public opinion company Schoen Cooperman Research based in New York. They are co-authors of the forthcoming book, “America: Unite or Die.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.