CBS News poll: Threats to democracy and elections – What are they and who sees them?

CBS News poll: Threats to democracy and elections - What are they and who sees them?

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Two-thirds of Americans feel democracy is threatened. They also tell us that having “free and fair” elections is a key part of democracy. So how do those two things connect? 

For one, most across the party spectrum want their state’s elections to be run by a nonpartisan or bipartisan entity. But when we ask where the threats come from, it’s a different story. Democrats who feel democracy is under threat see danger from people trying to overturn elections and from political violence, as we approach the anniversary of January 6. Republicans who perceive a threat see what they believe is illegal voting and balloting. That helps explain some policies they’re each pursuing: Republicans are changing voting rules in the states, while Democrats in Washington are again pushing for voting oversight at the federal level. 

And this, in turn, raises larger issues for a democracy: can it be sustained under either of these suspicions?

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Nearly nine in 10 Democrats see a threat to democracy from attempts to overturn or change election outcomes, and as they widely disapprove of what happened on January 6, nine in 10 see political violence as a threat, too. Republicans, at a rate of almost eight in 10, heavily cite their view that people vote or cast ballots illegally. Fewer, but still a sizable number, also say people trying to overturn or change elections is a major threat, and most of that group does not consider President Joe Biden the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, and they think there was widespread fraud, suggesting they view that tally itself as having been changed. 

Yet, even in the face of partisan differences over elections, we do find a common desire. More than seven in 10  Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, along with independents, prefer their state’s elections be supervised and administered by nonpartisan or a bipartisan set of officials (as is generally the case at the more local level). Belief in widespread fraud is related to support for making the voting process harder, but that doesn’t mean many are calling for outright partisan control over elections.

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There is a relatively small portion — roughly one in five partisans — who would prefer elections be administered by officials who solely come from their own political party. The people who hold this view are more likely to be on the ends of the ideological spectrum within their party – “very liberal” Democrats and “very conservative” Republicans. 

Republicans continue to believe there was widespread voter fraud

Republican identifiers stand apart from Americans overall in believing there was widespread fraud in the election of 2020, echoing the claims of former President Trump and many in their party. This has been the case since the election and didn’t change much over 2021.

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It’s also that time of year where party members debate how much attention they should pay to these matters, and what stances they should take ahead of the midterm elections. Democrats are widely in agreement. But rank-and-file Republicans are somewhat split, between those who’d want a hypothetical candidate to push back against the 2020 results, and those to whom it just doesn’t matter. Half of Republicans want their party’s candidates to say there was a lot of 2020 election fraud. Many others say it doesn’t matter what a candidate says on this.

Republicans are evenly divided between those who say the 2020 election results should have been overturned in Congress, and those who say it doesn’t matter. (It is, though, a mere fifth who want candidates who actually think the results should have been accepted.)

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Who are the Republicans who prefer 2022 candidates saying there was a lot of fraud in 2020 and Congress should have overturned the results? They tend to be older and consume more conservative media. And they’re especially likely to use the words “patriotism” and “defending freedom” to describe the actions of those who forced their way into the Capitol on January 6.

There is not a strong desire on either side of the political aisle for 2022 candidates who are outright supportive of what happened at the Capitol on January 6. For most Republicans, though, whether a candidate is supportive or critical of the events of January 6 doesn’t matter. 

There is a relatively small percentage of the public, 9%, who would prefer such a candidate. They are more likely to approve of the events of January 6 and also largely use the descriptors “defending freedom” or “patriotism.” About three in 10 in this group feel that elected officials or candidates might be justified in calling for violence in public speeches, higher than the 14% of the public overall who feels that way.


This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,063 U.S. adult residents interviewed between December 27-30, 2021.  This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey, and the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±2.6 points.

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