American democracy, we have been told, is in grave peril.
It’s a perspective we hear echoed dozens of times per day in the mainstream media: If this next election doesn’t go precisely how our hallowed elitists desire, surely tyranny will follow. As one of those sagacious experts, MSNBC’s Joy Reid, recently put it on Twitter, “It’s terrifying how many Americans will choose literal fascism, female serfdom, climate collapse and the reversal of everything from Social Security & Medicare to student loan relief bc they think giving Republicans the power to investigate Hunter Biden will bring down gas prices.”
Polls show that this message has filtered down to many Americans, mostly Democrats. According to the latest New York Times/Sienna poll, fully 11% of Democrats say “the state of our democracy” is the most important problem facing the country, compared with 17% who cite the economy and another 17% who cite inflation; 9% of independents feel the same way. More shocking, just 46% of Americans say that “America’s political system can still address the nation’s problems,” compared with 48% who say that the nation is “too divided politically to solve its problems.” And fully 74% of likely voters say American democracy is currently under threat.
All of which implies we should be pretty damned worried about the state of the republic.
And yet when we drill down, we see broad agreement among Americans that their neighbors aren’t their enemies; that our institutions are worth upholding; that the only remedy for our current political ills is to continue to work within the constitutional system. According to that same poll, just 20% of voters say they’ve had a disagreement with family or friends over politics that hurt their relationship; just 14% say that someone’s political views “tell you a lot about whether someone is a good person”; just 30% say that presidents should violate the laws to pursue “what they think is best.”
Just 14% of likely voters say we will need to “go outside the law” to fix our democracy — 16% of Democrats, 15% of independents and 9% of Republicans. Even among those who say we must “go outside the law,” just 12% say Americans should take up arms or participate in violence — meaning just 1.7% of likely voters advocate civil war. Meanwhile, 84% of likely voters say we can fix our democracy without destroying the system.
As for the media’s favorite Trumpian conspiracy theory, QAnon, just 5% of likely voters call the theory believable.
So, why precisely are so many Americans worried about the state of democracy? They’re worried that their political opponents will threaten the institutions they cherish. Forty-seven percent of voters declare former President Donald Trump a “major threat to democracy,” and 39% declare President Joe Biden to be the same. But shockingly, the institution they blame most for threatening democracy is the mainstream media, with 59% of likely voters, including 54% of independents, calling the mainstream media a “major threat to democracy.”
Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from all this data: that Americans don’t hate each other, but they’re being polarized by a media determined to divide them from one another, whipping up madness where mere concern would suffice. And what’s more, Americans can feel it.
All of which means that sanity may reign once again, so long as Americans reconnect with each other rather than believing everything they see on the news.