The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

4 in 5 Trump voters are dissatisfied with how democracy is going, which seems bad

A fifth disagree that democracy is the best form of government

A supporter of then-President Donald Trump holds up a sign as thousands march along Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Supreme Court during the Million MAGA March rally in Washington on Nov. 14. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Seventy-four million Americans, give or take, aren’t happy with how the 2020 presidential election turned out. That was the number of people who voted for Donald Trump, who lost. Some of that group, like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), are probably not lamenting that President Biden won, but most, it’s fair to say, wish he hadn’t.

That’s the thing about democracy. You get to have your say, but sometimes your say isn’t what carries the day. Given that the alternative is that you don’t get a say at all, it seems like an acceptable downside.

Or perhaps it doesn’t. In polling conducted this month by YouGov for the Economist, a substantial percentage of those Trump voters appear to be skeptical about how American democracy is working — and democracy in general.

The results of that first question, about satisfaction with democracy at the moment, are striking. More than half of Americans are at least somewhat dissatisfied with how democracy is working. Among Republicans, that jumped to three-quarters, and among self-identified Trump voters it climbed to nearly four in five.

Just shy of half of Trump voters said they are “completely” dissatisfied with how American democracy is working. That’s about 34 million people, if we extrapolate outward, or more than a tenth of the country.

Not great!

We see this manifested in the response to the 2020 election itself, of course. There has been repeated polling that shows unfounded Republican skepticism about the outcome, amplified by Trump and the right-wing media. Efforts to unwind the results continue as I write, with Arizona Republicans authorizing a slapdash review of votes in the state, an effort that Trump supporters hope will spread nationally. There is, in other words, a lot of direct evidence that the results of the democratic election last year have been rejected.

The poll results, though, extend beyond assessments of the moment. A fifth of Trump supporters — and independents — say they disagree at least somewhat that democracy is the best form of government. A tenth of each of those groups say they completely disagree that democracy is the best form of government.

Again: Not great!

Interestingly, the partisan split shifts a bit when the question is framed in the context of American supremacy. Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to say that American democracy works better than other countries — but it’s still noteworthy that even when framed in a patriotic context, less than half of Republicans hold that position.

The pollsters also asked about a number of components of democracy, asking respondents to evaluate how important they were. On most, there was broad consensus; More than 95 percent of both Democrats and Republicans say they think that “open and fair” elections are at least somewhat important, for example.

On two factors, though, there was a broader divide. Democrats are 22 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say that news organizations being free to criticize political leaders is at least somewhat important. Democrats were 31 points more likely to say this is very important.

Democrats are also 22 points more likely to describe the right to nonviolent protest as very important to democracy, a salient question given the demonstrations of the past 12 months.

There was one more disconcerting finding in the Economist-YouGov poll. Not only are Trump voters more unhappy with democracy at the moment, they’re far more pessimistic about democracy moving forward. About 3 in 5 Trump voters said they weren’t optimistic about where democracy was headed, compared to only a third of Biden voters. A plurality of Democrats — in fact, nearly half — expressed optimism about democracy’s future.

Look, feelings are still raw from last November. This happens. What’s different now is that the Republican Party is acting to constrain democratic elections, both by passing laws introducing new restrictions on voting and by expanding their own power to adjudicate the results. What’s different now is that the putative leader of the party, Trump, is doing literally everything in his power to overturn the results of the last national democratic election.

If I were to summarize things, I would do so thusly: not great.