WASHINGTON – Only a fragment of Americans believe democracy is thriving in the U.S., even as broad majorities agree that representative government is one of the country's bedrock principles, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Just 16% of Americans say democracy is working well or extremely well, a pessimism that spans the political spectrum. Nearly half of Americans, 45%, think democracy isn't functioning properly, while another 38% say it's working only somewhat well.
The core elements of democratic government, including free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power, were put to a dire test by the baseless claims of election fraud advanced by former President Donald Trump. Those assertions of fraud were a root cause of the deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol last month, which damaged the country's reputation as a model for democracy.
Trump will face an unprecedented second impeachment trial in the Senate this week for his role in sparking the violence. About half of Americans say the Senate should convict the Republican former president.
“At every turn, it's gotten worse and worse,” said Curtis Musser, a 55-year-old Republican-leaning independent in Clermont, Florida, who didn't vote for Trump. "You could see it brewing even before the election. And everything just kept spiraling downward from there.”
The poll's findings are broadly consistent with how Americans graded democracy before the election. But there are signs that Trump's attacks on the democratic process, including his repeated and discredited argument that the election was “stolen” because of voter irregularities, resonated with Republicans.
In October, about two-thirds of those who identify with the GOP, 68%, said democracy was working at least somewhat well. That figure plummeted to 36% in January. Democratic views whipsawed in the opposite direction, with 70% reporting democracy working at least somewhat well compared with 37% in the fall.
Overall, about two-thirds of Americans say Joe Biden was legitimately elected president, but only a third of Republicans hold that view.