Most Americans lack confidence that the results of US elections reflect the will of the people, a sentiment that has grown steadily since January 2021, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.
And about half of Americans, 48%, say they think it is at least somewhat likely that in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of a US election because their party did not win.
Follow-up interviews with people who participated in the poll suggest that the driving factors behind Republicans’ and Democrats’ views on elections are near-opposite. But there is a common thread: Concern.
When asked her outlook on the future of American democracy, Patricia Reasoner, an 83-year-old independent from Vermont, said, “I’m concerned because we came so close this time and we’re not putting enough controls in place to keep it from happening again so far. And if it happens again, I’m afraid it will topple us.”
In January 2021, shortly after the attack on the US Capitol, 59% of Americans said they had at least some confidence that US elections reflected the will of the people. That included 36% who were very confident that elections were representative of the public’s wishes.
Now, a year and a half later, only 42% have some confidence, and just 16% are very confident.
The biggest shifts over that time have come among Democrats and independents, even as Democrats remain the political group most likely to express confidence in American elections. In early 2021, 90% of Democrats said they were at least somewhat confident that elections reflected the will of the people; now, just 57% are. Among independents, the share who have at least some confidence has fallen from 54% to 38%. Among Republicans, by contrast, confidence has modestly increased but remained low, from 23% confident then to 29% now.
Kelly Woodward, a teacher and parent from Denver, where all voters receive mail ballots, said her experience of voting has been largely positive.
“I take both girls when I do it, when I drop off the ballot, and they sit with me as I’m filling it out. I know for my parents, who are older and are both very politically active, it’s very easy for them, which I appreciate, because it would be hard for them to go stand in line.”
But Woodward, a Democrat, has concerns about how well the system works elsewhere. “Even though it works for me, I don’t think it works for everybody, and it shouldn’t be that way in our country. It should be the same for everybody; they should feel that it works for them.”
Some worried that not everyone who should be able to vote actually could. LaRee Smith, a health care worker in Washington state said in an email to CNN, “[M]y biggest concern is not for myself but for voters in states (particularly in the South) where conservatives appear to be ramping up voter suppression and intimidation for citizens in lower socioeconomic classes.”
And Isaac Odibo, a Democrat from Norfolk, Virginia, said the nation’s election system is weaker now because, “a lot of people qualified to vote might be prevented from voting because of all the laws placed and new laws being passed.”
But on the other side, Republicans’ concerns seem rooted in doubts about the last presidential election, even as there has been no evidence of either voter fraud or tampering that would change the results. Despite the lack of evidence, numerous candidates for office and former President Donald Trump continue to push the falsehood that the election was stolen.
Still, Ruben Andres Delgado, a 26-year-old Republican from El Paso, Texas, said of 2020, “Anyone with logic and reasoning could tell you something fishy happened, something illegitimate happened.”
And another survey-taker from Northport, Alabama, who did not wish to be named, said, “There were instances of polls going smoothly and turning in the true vote count. But there were also instances that were claims from viewers and people working the polls that that didn’t take place, so there was a question mark.”
The survey was conducted as the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol held public hearings on its findings.
Woodward has been following the hearings a little bit.
“I just never thought in my lifetime that I would have seen something like January 6,” she said. “I guess there’s a fear of if that could happen, and if there aren’t any lasting consequences for the individuals who participated, does that just leave the door open for that to happen again? I do place great importance on the hearings, and sort of the precedent that that sets that this cannot happen in our country.”
Susan Loconsole, a Democrat from Carol Stream, Illinois, who has been watching as much of the hearings as she can and said she felt “devastated” by the attack, believes the election system has been weakened in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.
“I don’t think that there’s suddenly any more fraud or anything different going on,” she said. “It’s just one person saying there was and having so many people that believe everything he says, that they now have taken that as their message. There in itself is the most frightening thing in this country.”
Americans’ views on the likelihood that an election in the US would be overturned for partisan reasons have held steady at a roughly even split since last summer. Republicans (53% very or somewhat likely) and Democrats (49%) are about equally apt to say it is likely an election would be overturned, but Republicans are more likely to see such an outcome as “very” likely (21% among Republicans vs. 11% among Democrats).
The poll participant from Alabama, a retired teacher who backed Trump in 2020, said, “I still have my values, so I’m going to vote for the candidate that I normally would vote for, but there’s a concern about the correct candidates that are truly elected being put in office.” Transparency, the respondent said, was key. “Make sure the true vote is shown, whether it’s the vote I want or not, it should be the true vote, the true voice of the American people.”
Loconsole, the Democrat from Illinois, expressed faith that the results would be trustworthy. “I will, again, trust the system in the next election, even if that means that the Republicans take over.”
And when asked about her views on the future of American democracy, Woodward, the teacher from Colorado, said, “I’m an optimist. I have to be to wake up and vote and to watch the news. I am optimistic that people will do the right thing and that we’ll find a way to come together, also because I have children and teach children. I just have to think that good things are on the horizon, and that we can do this.”
The new CNN poll was conducted by SSRS June 13 through July 13 among a random national sample of 1,459 adults initially reached by mail, and is the third survey CNN has conducted using this methodology. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
CNN’s Ariel Edwards-Levy, Nicholas Anastacio and Clara Grudberg contributed to this report.