Presidents spend considerable time working on ways to explain the State of the Nation to the country. The Associated Press, on the other hand, is running polls to determine what the “state of our democracy” is at the moment. And according to their latest poll with the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, most people don’t think much of it. In fact, a slight majority of Americans surveyed felt that American Democracy was “not working very well.” People’s confidence in the outcome of the next elections isn’t very high either, though it’s still slightly better than it was in advance of the 2020 elections. So who is it that thinks our democracy is heading down the crapper? It’s not as one-sided as you might imagine. Confidence in the nation’s democracy is pretty much in the dumps.
Many Americans remain pessimistic about the state of U.S. democracy and the way elected officials are chosen — nearly two years after a divisive presidential election spurred false claims of widespread fraud and a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Only about half of Americans have high confidence that votes in the upcoming midterm elections will be counted accurately, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, though that’s an improvement from about 4 in 10 saying that just before the 2020 presidential election. Just 9% of U.S. adults think democracy is working “extremely” or “very well,” while 52% say it’s not working well.
Part of the divide on this question clearly comes down to partisan differences as you would likely expect. And those attitudes change depending on who controls the White House and Congress. In 2020, just 32% of Republicans said that our democracy was “not working well.” This year that number has climbed to 68%. Conversely, 63% of Democrats felt that way in 2020 while 40% are saying so today.
Still, whether you’re talking about 40% of Democrats or 68% of Republicans, that’s an awfully large slice of the electorate to be experiencing a crisis of faith in America’s democratic system. In fact, those are the sorts of numbers that make you start keeping your eyes open to see if there are going to be any open rebellions in the streets. The system only works as long as people believe in it.
But why wouldn’t people feel that way? Just look at what they are consuming from cable news, our major newspapers, and social media. They are constantly being barraged with images of the January 6 Committee and their dire warnings about how the country was almost destroyed by some trespassers last January. On the other side of the aisle, you still have a lot of people saying that the last presidential election was rigged. Prior to that, in 2016 there were more than enough Democrats and their media stenographers suggesting that Donald Trump only won the election because of a secretive Russian plot.
If you keep feeding people the same dose of poison on a daily basis for long enough, they aren’t going to develop an immunity to it. They’re actually going to get sick. And what much of the public seems to be sick of at the moment is all of the drama and accusations about rigged or stolen elections, voter suppression, and, of course, white supremacy, transphobia, and vegan rights. (Okay… I made that last one up, but it’s coming before long, trust me.)
I’ve done my best to try to suggest some remedies to help with the situation. (Using only paper ballots cast in person on election day with photo ID and election monitors from both parties at every polling station.) But I’m reaching the point where I’m not sure even steps like that can heal the breach. It’s not that people lack faith in the system itself as much as they lack faith in the people running the system. No system is perfect or impossible to breach if you put enough work into it.
But if the hands controlling the action from behind the curtains can’t be trusted, nothing can be trusted. And that just sounds like a recipe for societal breakdown. We have to do better. Keep in mind the words of Ben Franklin who allegedly answered a question about the government the founders had crafted by saying, “a republic, if you can keep it.” America was an experiment, after all. There was never any guarantee that it would last over the long run. And we can’t simply sit back and assume that it will. That’s what the Roman Empire assumed right up until the day they went out of business.