Americans Think Our Democracy Is on the Brink. So Does Biden.
In a new national poll this week from Quinnipiac University, 67 percent of American adults said they thought the country’s democracy was “in danger of collapse.”
That’s a huge number. And, as Quinnipiac noted, it is an increase of nine percentage points from its January survey, when 58 percent of Americans said the same thing.
One noteworthy caveat: “Adults” is not the same as “likely voters,” which is what political pollsters use to estimate who will turn out to vote in the next election. Figuring that out is as much art as it is science, as any pollster worth their salt would acknowledge.
In January, Quinnipiac found that 62 percent of Republicans, and 56 percent of Democrats, agreed that America’s democracy was in danger of collapse. In the latest poll, the partisan breakdown is dead even: Sixty-nine percent of Republicans and Democrats alike share that fear.
So Democrats have caught up to their Republican counterparts. But their views of who might be responsible for that potential collapse differ greatly, as Peter Baker writes in a forthcoming story analyzing the data in greater detail.
The numbers are “disturbing,” Larry Sabato, the longtime director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said in a tweet reacting to the Quinnipiac poll. It doesn’t mean that American democracy is collapsing or will collapse; we’ve arguably endured far worse at various times in our history, and yet, like Tom Brady, we’re still here.
But it does mean that people’s confidence in our system of government is declining to an alarming degree.
In December, most of the Democratic and Republican political strategists I spoke with said democracy wasn’t a huge topic in their private polling and focus groups and wasn’t likely to move votes in the midterms.
Some Democrats also told me then that they worried that drawing too much attention to the issue of “threats to democracy” (as Democrats describe the topic) and “electoral integrity” (as Republicans describe it) would help Republicans, as Donald Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories and election falsehoods seemed to be a powerful motivator for voters in his party’s base.
If more voters are indeed starting to prioritize democracy over other issues, that is big news in the political world. But the evidence for that notion is thin at the moment.
The Biden Presidency
With midterm elections approaching, here’s where President Biden stands.
- On the Campaign Trail: Fresh off a series of legislative victories, President Biden is back campaigning. But his low approval ratings could complicate his efforts to help Democrats in the midterm elections.
- ‘Dark Brandon’ Rises: White House officials recently began to embrace this repackaged internet meme. Here is the story behind it and what it tells us about the administration.
- Questions About 2024: Mr. Biden has said he plans to run for a second term, but at 79, his age has become an uncomfortable issue.
- A Familiar Foreign Policy: So far, Mr. Biden’s approach is surprisingly consistent with the Trump administration’s, analysts say.
Examining Biden’s speech
President Biden laid out his own concerns about American democracy with a prime-time address on Thursday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. My colleague Zolan Kanno-Youngs was there to capture it along with Michael Shear, his frequent collaborator.
I asked Zolan to unpack Biden’s speech — why he made it and what the White House’s political calculations might be, alongside the serious concerns the president laid out in his 24-minute address. (Be sure also to read Peter Baker’s analysis and Jonathan Weisman’s takeaways.)
Our Slack chat, lightly edited for length and clarity:
You’ve been following President Biden’s focus on threats to democracy for a while now, including his idea for a summit rallying the world’s democracies and Thursday’s speech in Philadelphia. What’s your read on why he is doing this?
President Biden has said all along that it is this threat against democracy that motivated him to run for president. For him, this battle began when he saw neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching through Charlottesville in 2017.
From the conversations I have had with sources in and around the White House, the president is genuinely concerned about the rise of autocracy overseas and about extremism within the United States. He came into office expecting that people would leave Trumpism behind and that his message of unity and national healing would resonate. That obviously hasn’t happened.
Some of his supporters found that assumption to be out of touch with the current polarized state of the nation. He had been planning Thursday’s speech since early this summer because of persistent false claims of election fraud and the impending midterm elections, according to officials familiar with the matter.
When you talk to people at the White House, do they say that there is a political upside to Biden’s emphasis on saving democracy from the Republican Party, or that it is purely about substance? Because the political portion of my brain wonders why he keeps returning to a swing state for these speeches.
Never deny your political mind, Blake. The White House will say at the podium that this is purely about substance and the need to issue a dire warning about the threat of political violence, the undermining of American institutions and the removal of constitutional rights.
But two things can exist at the same time. A White House official recently told us that the forthcoming congressional elections factored into the president’s prime-time address. And as my colleagues and I have written recently, Biden is hoping that he can galvanize even those voters who are still frustrated with the economy by making the election a choice between a vote for democracy or extremism.
The New York Times has noted that Biden is shifting from extolling the virtues of bipartisanship to warning that the G.O.P. is becoming a party of extremists. Why do you think the White House has made that calculation?
Biden spent most of his first year emphasizing a commitment to bipartisanship that was shaped during his decades in the Senate. He preached unity and tried to ignore Trump during his first year in office, both because he thought Trumpism would fade away but also so as not to alienate Republicans who might be willing to work with him on the Hill.
Biden has been able to pass bipartisan legislation on guns, infrastructure and incentives for semiconductor manufacturers to build plants in the United States. But Trump’s hold over the Republican Party has only tightened since Biden’s election.
Now, the White House has developed a two-part campaign strategy that they hope will carry them through the midterms: condemn the extremism espoused by some Republicans and describe Biden’s recent legislative achievements. You saw the execution of that strategy on Thursday.
I also should note that while Biden is now leaning into a more aggressive tone on “MAGA Republicans,” his fellow Democrats are spending money on some of those same Republicans in a gamble to give Democratic candidates a better shot of winning elections this fall. Dan Bolduc, who is vying for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, is only the most recent example.
How much elbow grease has Biden put behind his democracy agenda? Is it just a rhetorical flourish, or is there real policy work being done?
At a bare minimum, Biden is calling out the threat of domestic extremism for what it is. Nonpartisan groups and federal law enforcement agencies have been issuing increasingly dire warnings about the dangers far-right groups pose to the country’s political stability.
But as I’m writing this, from the south auditorium of the White House on Friday, the president just ignored shouted questions about what his administration can actually do to protect democracies besides just give speeches. And when I asked Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, multiple times on Friday what action they’re going to take to follow up on Biden’s remarks, she didn’t specify a policy.
We haven’t heard much from Vice President Kamala Harris lately. Wasn’t she in charge of voting rights? How is that going?
Yes, voting rights was one of the issues the vice president actually requested for her portfolio.
We have not heard as much from her or anyone from the administration since Democrats in Congress failed to advance voting rights protections earlier this year. The Justice Department has taken some action, suing Arizona over a state law requiring proof of citizenship for voting.
Some on the vice president’s staff had grown frustrated over the lack of solutions when it came to voting rights protections, particularly when Biden had yet to endorse changing the filibuster rules.
Harris is now emerging as the face of the administration’s fight to protect abortion rights.
What to read on democracy
By Neil Vigdor
Catie Edmondson writes about the Republicans who marched on the Capitol — and now want to work inside of it as members of Congress.
Alarm is growing among state and federal officials and voting rights advocates as more election workers leave their posts, Fredreka Schouten reports at CNN. In Kentucky, for instance, 23 out of 120 county election clerks have decided not to run for re-election.
A 2018 debate clip of Stacey Abrams lecturing Brian Kemp about voting rights and democracy is garnering renewed attention in their rematch for Georgia governor, according to Rolling Stone.
The authorities in Michigan are investigating how a machine used to help disabled voters mark ballots wound up on eBay.
The Washington Post unearthed more emails from Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, urging state lawmakers to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, this time in Wisconsin.
Thank you for reading, and for subscribing to The New York Times. — Blake
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