Poll: Half of Americans now predict U.S. may 'cease to be a democracy' someday

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·West Coast Correspondent
·7-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Trump supporters fight with police in riot gear.
Trump supporters clash with police outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that most Democrats (55%) and Republicans (53%) now believe it is “likely” that America will “cease to be a democracy in the future” — a stunning expression of bipartisan despair about the direction of the country.

Half of all Americans (49%) express the same sentiment when independents and those who do not declare any political affiliation are factored in, while just a quarter (25%) consider the end of U.S. democracy unlikely and another quarter (25%) say they’re unsure.

At the same time, however, a large number of Americans seem indifferent to the high-profile hearings by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — an effort to get to the bottom of one of the most dramatic assaults on the democratic process in U.S. history.

In fact, the new survey of 1,541 U.S. adults — which was conducted from June 10 (the day after the committee’s first hearing) to June 13 (the day of its second) — found that fewer than 1 in 4 (24%) say they watched last Thursday’s initial primetime broadcast live. Only slightly more (27%) say they caught news coverage later. Nearly half (49%) say they did not follow the hearings at all.

An image of Donald Trump is projected on a large screen above the Jan. 6 committee at its second hearing.
Donald Trump is pictured during the second hearing of the Jan. 6 committee on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

So while the data indicates that many Americans seem to be losing faith in the future of U.S. democracy, relatively few seem interested in reckoning with a real-life attempt to undermine it. That raises a disturbing question: Have Americans simply given up on democracy?

The poll doesn’t go quite that far. But it does suggest that Americans have largely given up on each other.

As usual, partisanship is key to understanding what’s happening here. Live viewership of the hearings was lowest among Donald Trump voters (9%), Republicans (13%) and Fox News viewers (22%); it was highest among Joe Biden voters (47%), Democrats (44%) and viewers of MSNBC (52%). Nearly three-quarters (72%) of those who watched identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

In part as a result, less than half of Americans (45%) say they believe the Democrat-led committee’s central claim: that the Jan. 6 attack “was part of a conspiracy to overturn the election.” The rest either say it was not (35%) or that they’re unsure (20%).

Likewise, just 37% of Americans believe there was a conspiracy and that “Donald Trump was at the center of [it]” — the committee’s other major argument.

Again, partisan affiliation defines these views: 84% of Biden voters and 77% of Democrats believe the attack was part of a conspiracy to overturn the election; 71% of Trump voters and 59% of Republicans believe the attack was not part of such a conspiracy. Independents are evenly split — 39% yes versus 41% no — on the question.

But if Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are largely dismissive of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, then why are most of them pessimistic about the future of democracy? For the same reason most refused to watch the hearings in the first place: because they see Democrats — not the Trump supporters who invaded the Capitol — as the real problem.

And Democrats largely feel the same way about Republicans.

When asked to choose the phrase that best “describes most people on the other side of the political aisle from you,” a majority of Republicans pick extreme negatives such as “out of touch with reality” (30%), a “threat to America” (25%), “immoral” (8%) and a “threat to me personally” (4%). A tiny fraction select more sympathetic phrases such as “well-meaning” (4%) or “not that different from me” (6%).

The results among Democrats are nearly identical, with negatives such as “out of touch with reality” (27%), a “threat to America” (23%), “immoral” (7%) and a “threat to me personally” (4%) vastly outnumbering positives such as “well-meaning” (7%) or “not that different from me” (5%).

Meanwhile, the number of Trump and Biden voters who say the other side is primarily a threat to America (28% and 25%, respectively) is double the number who say the other side is primarily “wrong about policy” (14% and 13%).

This explains why 43% of Republicans continue to say that “left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad” deserve “the most blame” for Jan. 6, versus just 7% who blame Trump himself, 10% for “Trump supporters who gathered at the Capitol” and 12% for “right-wing groups like the Proud Boys” — even though there is zero evidence that liberals were involved.

Trump supporters storm the Capitol.
Trump supporters storm the Capitol following a rally on Jan. 6, 2021. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

It also helps explain why members of the Jan. 6 committee have their work cut out for them if they hope to move public opinion. The new Yahoo News/YouGov survey suggests that outrage toward the targets of the House investigation has only eroded over the last seven months.

  • While still confined to a small minority, belief that the attack on the Capitol was “justified” (17%) has risen 5 percentage points since December (12%); it is now the highest it has ever been.

  • The number of Americans who describe Jan. 6 participants as “primarily peaceful and law-abiding” (30%) has also gone up 6 points (from 24%) since December.

  • At the same time, the number of Americans assigning “a great deal” of blame to Trump for the Jan. 6 attack has fallen 6 points (from 45% to 39%), as have the numbers saying the same about “Republicans who claimed the election had been stolen” (down from 42% to 36%) and “Trump supporters who gathered at the U.S. Capitol” (down from 50% to 43%).

  • And while 60% of Americans said in December that they believed “another attack like January 6 could happen in the future,” fewer (53%) say that now.

The survey does contain one small kernel of hope for the House committee. In December, 72% of Republicans predicted the committee would not “tell the truth” about Jan. 6. But today, the number of Republicans who say the committee is not telling the truth is 12 points lower (60%), while the number who say they’re not sure is 10 points higher (28%). That could suggest some openness to persuasion.

Yet even such uncertainty is likely to be consumed by partisan animosity in the end. A full 60% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans now believe America is becoming a “less democratic country”; just 23% say the country is becoming “more democratic.”

Republicans in particular are far more inclined to agree that America treated “people like them” fairly “in the past” (71%) than “today” (36%) — though more Democrats also say the former (50%) than the latter (46%).

A majority of Republicans (52%) also say it’s likely that “there will be a civil war in the United States in [their] lifetime”; half of independents (50%) and a plurality of Democrats (46%) agree. In each group, fewer than 4 in 10 say another civil war is unlikely.

A supporter of Donald Trump holds a Confederate flag outside the Senate chamber.
A Trump supporter with a Confederate flag outside the Senate chamber during the Capitol assault. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

And perhaps most unsettling of all, only about half of Americans are willing to rule out “physical violence” (50%) and “taking up arms against the government” (47%) when asked if there are times when such measures “would be justified in order to protect the country from radical extremists.” About a quarter of Americans say that violence (26%) and taking up arms (23%) could be justified.

These tendencies, it’s worth noting, are particularly pronounced on the right — as Jan. 6 itself demonstrated. Nearly 8 in 10 Trump voters (79%) say “limiting free speech” is off-limits as a method to protect the country from radical extremists; 65% say the same about “protesting outside personal residences of government officials.” Yet only 39% reject taking up arms against the government in such situations — and nearly as many (31%) say it could be justified.

Just 15% of Biden voters agree.

______________

The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,541 U.S. adults interviewed online from June 10 to 13, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.9%.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting