Politics

Americans see democracy under threat — CBS News poll

Americans see President-elect Joe Biden taking office amid both the health crisis of the pandemic — and what they decry as a confusing vaccine rollout that is far too slow — then more broadly, they voice deep concern about the health of democracy itself. 

And it seems too facile to just say the nation is “divided” now, because in the wake of recent events, there’s active worry: Of potential threats to their way of life — from foreign adversaries to economic forces to natural disasters — Americans today say the biggest threat comes from inside the country, from “other people in America, and domestic enemies.”

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And it’s not a passing sentiment. Americans are bracing for more political violence, not just in the next week at Mr. Biden’s inauguration (which most think is likely), but also over the coming years.

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After the attacks, the rhetoric and attempts to overturn electoral votes, here’s how Americans describe democracy and rule of law in the U.S. today: just 6% think it “very secure” and just 29% think it’s at least somewhat secure at all. The rest see it threatened.

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Still, a majority of Americans says they’re optimistic about Mr. Biden as president, particularly those who voted for him, though that overall optimism measure is marked by partisan splits. Far more want him to succeed than fail. Americans think things will now get better in fighting the pandemic, which they also want to be his top priority. (Views that he would handle the coronavirus issue better also were key in helping Mr. Biden win the presidency, so perhaps it should come as no surprise the expectations here are higher.)

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As of now, though, most Americans are critical of the way the vaccine rollout in their state is going, with most saying it is moving too slowly.

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Healing political divisions, however, looks to people like a much bigger challenge for Mr. Biden — far harder than dealing with the outbreak or any other issue. Republicans, Democrats and independents all think so. 

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And while a functioning democracy doesn’t demand that everyone agree on everything, any healing will need to get past the personal animosity voters now have toward each other: Most Trump voters hold unfavorable views of Mr. Biden’s voters, not just towards Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden’s voters have widely unfavorable views of the people who voted for President Trump, not just Mr. Trump himself.

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Overall, when Americans are asked their general sentiments about the coming year, they have mixed feelings — they’re both hopeful and also scared. This could be an important measure to watch, to see if that balance changes over the coming months.

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Where do Republicans go from here?

As Mr. Biden takes office amid these challenges, Republicans are less favorable about their own party right now than Democrats are about theirs. Mr. Trump does leave with most rank-and-file Republicans viewing the last four years positively, when asked to look back at them.

But the Republican Party itself shows some splits on where to go from here, at least in how to approach the new administration. 

The Republican rank-and-file divide between those who are willing to have their party’s members of Congress work with Mr. Biden and those who are not.

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Half of Republicans will consider Mr. Biden the legitimate president after he’s sworn in, which is more than said they considered him the legitimate winner just after the election. Half still will not, though. 

But this too defines a larger split in the party. Those saying “no” to Mr. Biden’s legitimacy tend to be the firmest Trump supporters, and 9 in 10 say they would vote for Mr. Trump again in 2024. They overwhelmingly opposed him being impeached for a second time. And while most Americans consider Republicans who voted to impeach as “principled,” these Republicans consider them “disloyal.” Three in four of them want congressional Republicans to oppose Mr. Biden as much as possible, rather than find common ground.

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The other half of Republicans who say they will consider Mr. Biden legitimate are less supportive of Mr. Trump and more open to seeking common ground with Mr. Biden. A mirror image of the group above, three in four would prefer congressional Republicans try to find common ground with Biden. 

They are just as likely to consider Republicans who voted to impeach “principled” as “disloyal,” and they’d be a bit more likely to consider voting for a Republican congressional candidate who was independent from Mr. Trump as one loyal to him. Only about half would consider voting for Mr. Trump in four years, with the rest dividing evenly between maybe and no.

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This CBS News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,166 U.S. residents interviewed between January 13-16, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as the 2020 presidential vote and registration status. The margin of error is ±2.5 points.

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