Poll: A majority of Americans believe U.S. democracy is in crisis A year after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that Americans are pessimistic about the future of democracy, as false claims about the 2020 election persist.

6 in 10 Americans say U.S. democracy is in crisis as the 'Big Lie' takes root

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Americans are deeply pessimistic about the future of our democracy. As we approach the anniversary of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe U.S. democracy is in crisis and at risk of failing. NPR's Joel Rose joins us now. Joel, a bit of a startling finding. Is this different for Republicans or Democrats?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, we found that, actually, a majority of Americans agree across the board regardless of partisanship. Overall, 64% of poll respondents say U.S. democracy is in crisis. But this sentiment is really strongest among Republicans. A big percentage of Republicans agree with the false claim that there was significant fraud in the 2020 election. Here's Mallory Newall. She is a vice president at Ipsos, which conducted the poll.

MALLORY NEWALL: It is Republicans that are driving this belief that there was major fraudulent voting, and it changed the results in the election. And fewer than half of Republicans are willing to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election.

ROSE: The number of Republicans who say they're willing to accept the results of that election is virtually unchanged from last January. It's actually down a little bit. Almost two-thirds of poll respondents overall agree that democracy is more at risk now than it was a year ago. And among Republicans, that number climbs to four out of five.

MARTINEZ: Wow. Now, NPR did some follow-up interviews with people who took part in this poll. Joel, what did they tell you about why they're feeling this way?

ROSE: Well, the answers differed sharply depending on whether you were talking to Democrats or Republicans. Two-thirds of Republicans in this survey agree with the false claim that, quote, "voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election." That is a key pillar of the so-called "Big Lie" that the election was stolen from former President Trump. This has been thoroughly disproven. But many Republicans are simply not persuaded. We talked to Stephen Weber from Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

STEPHEN WEBER: I think the Democrats rigged the election because I saw how, all of a sudden, the numbers changed at, like, 3 a.m. And who the hell would vote for Biden?

ROSE: Eighty-one million people voted for Biden, compared to about 74 million for Trump. But Weber says he still doesn't trust mail-in voting or Democrats. And he still believes that the election was stolen - clearly, a lot of other Republicans feeling that way, too.

MARTINEZ: All right. What about Democrats? What did they tell you?

ROSE: Democrats are also dismayed about the state of democracy but for very different reasons. They voiced concern about voting restrictions that have been passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures last year. And they are struggling to make sense of this persistent belief in the fiction that President Trump won reelection. Here's Susan Leonard from Lyme, N.H.

SUSAN LEONARD: It's like a group mental illness has hit these people. I can't even wrap my head around. I cannot believe this is happening in our country. I am scared.

MARTINEZ: Joel, what about January 6? Any agreement about what happened there?

ROSE: Well, almost no one thinks it was a reasonable protest. But beyond that, Americans really cannot agree on what it was. More than half of Democrats call it, quote, an "attempted coup or insurrection." Republicans are more likely to call it a, quote, "riot that got out of control." And a significant number of Republicans - almost a third - told us that it was actually carried out by opponents of Donald Trump, including antifa and government agents, which is a baseless conspiracy theory that has been debunked. Democrats want to see more accountability for what happened that day. Two-thirds say President Trump and his allies broke the law trying to overturn the election. Republicans disagree. Most say the president was within his rights to contest the election results or that he didn't go far enough.

MARTINEZ: Oh. All right. So there it is, a big wall between people. Any good news, Joel, in this poll?

ROSE: Well, most Americans are opposed to political violence. Oh, good. Yeah. Strong majorities of both parties say it is not OK to, quote, "engage in violence to protect American democracy," unquote. But at the same time, there is a sizable minority in both parties who said, it is sometimes OK. Twenty-two percent of Biden voters agreed with that. And 32% of Trump voters said they agreed with that. So not a huge difference, but a significant one.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thanks a lot.

ROSE: A, you're welcome.

MARTINEZ: And you can find that NPR/Ipsos poll and more reporting from Joel at npr.org.

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