In the immediate aftermath of the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, CNN conducted a poll. Among the questions it asked was this one: “In general, how confident are you that elections in America today reflect the will of the people?”
At the time, 6 in 10 (59%) of people said they were either “very” or “somewhat” confident that elections reflect the will of the people.
CNN’s brand new national poll asked that question again – and got a VERY different result. Now, just 44% of Americans express confidence in the idea of free and fair elections, while 56% say they have little or no confidence in our elections.
That’s a stunning reversal in the course of 13 months. And it proves that – as unfortunate as this may be – Donald Trump’s election lie is working.
By now, you know about Trump’s big lie. It’s that the 2020 election was somehow fraudulent, that Trump actually beat Joe Biden, but that through widespread voter fraud the result didn’t reflect the will of the people. That message has been a constant drumbeat for the former President since he left office.
“The ballot harvesting scam will go down as the biggest political scandal in history,” Trump said in a statement from his Save America PAC earlier this week. “It is totally determinative, and the Democrats are doing everything they can to stop the news from coming out. Republicans must be strong and unified in order to save our Country.” (Again, there is NO evidence of widespread voter fraud in any state or nationally.)
As you might expect, the Trump base is most skeptical that American elections are an accurate reflection of who people want to win. Just 1 in 4 (26%) of self-identified Republicans say they have faith in US elections. That’s similar to the 29% of White Americans without college degrees and the 25% of conservatives who say the same.
Among Republicans who say they think Biden’s win was not legitimate, just 13% have confidence in US elections compared with 60% among those Republicans who say Biden did win legitimately.
In a broad sense, none of that is new. Trump’s lies about the election have long gained purchase within the base of the Republican Party.
What is new – and should scare every single one of us – is that groups who are not ardently pro-Trump have begun to doubt American elections too. Among Democrats, just 68% express confidence in elections. That number is just 41% among political independents. White Americans with college degrees? Just less than half (47%) say they have no or just a little faith in our elections. Four in ten (43%) of Black Americans say the same.
One element of rising Democratic angst could well be their worry that Republicans – if empowered in the states – will succeed in overturning future elections. Another could be concerns around the restrictive voting laws Republicans, often inspired by Trump, have pushed at the state level over the past year.
What this means for the future of our elections is, well, nothing good.
Numbers like this suggest that not only are Republicans unlikely to believe the results if their side loses in 2022 (and 2024), but a large chunk of independents and even a not-insignificant number of Democrats may feel the same way.
This is the insidiousness of Trump’s big lie. It’s like an earworm – you may hate the song but you just keep finding yourself humming it in the shower. Trump has created a constant low-level buzz within the American electorate that something is wrong with the way we conduct elections. That he has no proof doesn’t seem to matter; by sheer repetition, his false claims are wheedling their way into the consciousness of the public.
If you’re not worried about the November election – and, especially, the 2024 presidential election – you’re just not paying attention.