Hexbyte Glen Cove Republican and Democratic voters agree on one thing—the need for generous COVID-19 relief thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Republican and Democratic voters agree on one thing—the need for generous COVID-19 relief

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Bright Line Watch asked experts to rate the severity of the threats posed to democracy. More than 90 percent of the polled experts viewed the items that scored highest across the (ab)normality-and-importance dimensions as either a “moderate,” “serious,” or “grave” threat. Credit: Bright Line Watch

Both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly favor politicians who support generous COVID-19 relief spending, yet remain deeply polarized over the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results and former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment. Meanwhile, political experts find that the former president’s actions and those taken by congressional supporters in the aftermath of the election represent serious departures from American democratic norms.

Those are among the most recent findings of Bright Line Watch, the political science research project cofounded by Gretchen Helmke, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester, and her colleagues at the University of Chicago and Dartmouth College. The watchdog group started regular surveys about the health of US democracy in February 2017.

Read Bright Line Watch’s latest (February 2021) survey, “American democracy at the start of the Biden presidency.”

The team found strong bipartisan support for a new COVID-19 relief package, with Republican voters favoring a hypothetical candidate who supports a $500 billion pandemic appropriation over one who opposes it by 11 points, independents by 12 points, and Democrats by 18 points.

COVID relief has proven to be extremely popular with supporters of both parties, says Bright Line Watch cofounder Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “We’ve seen Democrats and Republicans in Congress at times compete to provide more generous offers of aid and assistance. The public seems to largely agree that the government should provide more help given the economic circumstances Americans currently face.”

Meanwhile, the legitimacy of the election result remains a polarizing issue: while 42 percent of Republican public policymakers expressed confidence in the integrity of the election results at the national level, only 22 percent of Republicans in the public sample felt the same way. To Helmke, the public’s continued partisan view of the election is troubling.

“In a democracy people basically have to trust that the rules are fair and that if their party or their team loses, the stakes of that loss won’t be intolerable, that in the future they’ll be able to contest an election again, and that they’ll have a chance of winning. That keeps everyone committed to democracy and to playing by the rules,” Helmke says. “Once you break that faith—that elections actually determine who the winner is—people’s allegiance to democracy wanes.”

While the latest survey provides a snapshot of the state of democracy in the early days of the new Biden administration, it’s also a look in the rearview mirror. The Bright Line Watch team found that loyalties and antipathy toward the former president—whose Senate impeachment trial began immediately after the surveys were conducted—continue to shape the views of citizens and government officials alike.

As a result, the “country still lives in the shadow of the Trump legacy,” the team writes.

As they had done throughout the project, the group fielded two parallel surveys—one to political experts and one to a representative sample of the US population—between January 28 and February 8.

Among the key findings in the survey of the public:

  • Partisan differences in confidence in the 2020 election and on legal and political accountability for former President Trump are profound. Democrats trust the election, support disqualifying Trump from holding future office, and believe he should face criminal prosecution. Republicans distrust the election results and favor moving on without consequences for Trump. Independents are split.
  • While there is cross-party consensus on government spending on pandemic relief, stark polarization over the certification of the presidential election and impeachment continues, with Republicans punishing Republican candidates for crossing the party line on either issue.

Among the key findings in the survey of political experts:

  • The experts overwhelmingly favor a set of reform proposals to expand voting participation, tighten campaign finance regulation, and modify how electoral districts are configured and votes are cast. They also favor abolishing the Senate filibuster and imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices. The only reform the experts reject is compulsory voting.
  • Experts rate the January 6 insurrection and President Trump’s pressure on state-level officials to overturn the election as among the most abnormal and important events of the Trump presidency. They overwhelmingly regard these events and the votes by a majority of Republican lawmakers in Congress not to certify the presidential results as grave or serious threats to American democracy.

Thinking of secession?

The specter of secession entered into the group’s battery of questions after legislators at the local and state level started mentioning it publicly. For the first time Bright Line Watch asked its public sample about the prospect of breaking up the United States into more than one country—a genuinely radical proposition, the team acknowledges.

“Until recently, we would have regarded it as too marginal to include in a survey. But state legislators in Mississippi and Texas and state GOP leaders in Texas and Wyoming have openly advocated secession in recent months, prompting us to design two survey items to gauge perceptions of this idea,” they write.

Notably, when presented with a proposal for their region to secede from the United States, almost one in three Americans polled (29 percent) is willing to entertain the prospect. Republicans (33 percent) support secession more than Democrats (21 percent); but Democrats are more amenable to secession than Republicans in areas where they tend to hold power.

Yet, the researchers caution against reading too much into that data: the results reflect initial reactions by respondents about an issue that they are very unlikely to have considered carefully, the team cautions.


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Hexbyte Glen Cove Why does it matter if most Republican voters still think Biden lost? thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Why does it matter if most Republican voters still think Biden lost?

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Trump supporters and opponents differ most in their expressed levels of confidence in how votes were counted. Confidence plummeted at all levels among Trump supporters from Bright Line Watch’s October survey compared to their November survey. Most notably, confidence in the national vote count collapsed from 56 percent to 28 percent among Trump supporters at the national level. Credit: Bright Line Watch

As President-elect Joe Biden and his administrative team officially begin the transition process, only about 20 percent of Republican voters consider him the true winner of the election. Nearly half of all respondents—48 percent—still expect President Donald Trump to be inaugurated for a second term on January 20, despite plenty of indicators to the contrary. Those are among the findings of the latest Bright Line Watch (November) survey—the political science research project of faculty at the University of Rochester, the University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College.

“We were really struck by how much Trump’s baseless narrative of voter fraud to explain his loss to Biden has continued to shape the beliefs of his supporters after the ,” says Gretchen Helmke, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester and a Bright Line Watch founder.

The watchdog group’s latest survey shows a clear increase in the public’s partisan divide over the legitimacy of the election compared to their previous survey in October. In the October survey, 33 percent of strong Trump supporters still said they would view a victorious Biden as definitely or probably the “rightful winner.” Yet after the election, only 9 percent of strong Trump supporters saw Biden as the rightful winner. Indeed, 67 percent of that group now expressed certainty that Biden was “definitely not the rightful winner,” the scientists found.

“Although it’s typical that voters’ optimism about things like the economy, or the direction of the country shift depending on whether their candidate wins the election, it’s really striking just how pervasive the loss of confidence in elections has become among Trump’s supporters in the wake of his defeat,” says Helmke.

As they had done throughout the project, the group fielded two parallel surveys— one to political experts and one to a representative sample of the US population—between November 12 and 25.

Bright Line Watch asked the public about the legitimacy of the election results, their confidence that votes were cast and counted fairly, their beliefs about voter fraud, and their willingness to condone political violence. Meanwhile, the experts were asked to rate the likelihood of 23 scenarios related to the November election and the transition to a new administration that could lead to political crises. As in previous surveys, the team asked both groups to assess the quality of US democracy overall and to rate the performance on 30 distinct democratic principles.

Read the watchdog group’s latest (November 2020) survey, “A Democratic Stress Test—The 2020 Election and Its Aftermath.”

Key findings

Public survey findings

  • Compared to before the election, confidence in the election process and the legitimacy of the outcome became much more polarized between Trump supporters and opponents.
  • Most notably, confidence in the national vote count plummeted among Trump supporters, declining from 56 percent before the election—to 28 percent afterward.
  • Belief about voter fraud became even more polarized: larger majorities of Trump supporters now believe that fraud is rampant compared to before the election.
  • More encouragingly, the willingness to condone political violence declined slightly after the election.

Expert survey findings

  • Experts in the October survey correctly identified six nightmare scenarios that did transpire (among the eight that the experts had forecast as most likely) but they generally overestimated the probability of outcomes seen as somewhat or not very likely (and none of which actually took place).
  • Experts believe it’s highly likely that Trump will continue to refuse to recognize Biden’s presidency and to obstruct the transition.
  • Experts think it’s highly likely that the president will take actions to protect himself and those around him from legal exposure after leaving office.
  • Experts regard problems with the Electoral College and the formal recognition of Biden’s presidency as unlikely.
  • Large majorities of experts regard Trump’s attacks on US elections and the press as serious or grave threats to American democracy. By contrast, experts do not consider mail balloting to pose a threat to democracy and are divided over Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court appointment.

“We found especially disconcerting that the polarization of beliefs about the legitimacy of election between Trump supporters and opponents, which was already extremely high beforehand, has only grown in the wake of the presidential election,” says Helmke.

In the last poll conducted right before the November election, for example, Bright Line Watch found huge gaps between the two groups in terms of concern about , but not about whether votes would be counted fairly at the national level. In the postelection survey, however, the gaps in perceived fraud were even larger, with roughly 80 percent of Trump supporters now expressing the belief that fraud of all types (stealing or tampering with ballots, pretending to be someone else, voting by non-US citizens, voting multiple times, or voting with another person’s absentee ballot) was rampant in the 2020 election—having occurred thousands of times, or even millions of times. Yet, fewer than 20 percent of Trump opponents believe in this kind of fraud, the scientists found.

“The levels of fraud in which these respondents profess to believe are staggering and would require the complicity of thousands of local electoral officials and volunteers, including numerous Republicans and nonpartisan participants,” the political scientists write. Yet, regardless of the fact that all claims of widespread fraud and electoral misconduct have been dismissed by judges in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia, the false narrative has become pervasive among Trump supporters, the team notes.

Additionally, the group saw gaps open up in the respondents’ confidence that votes are counted fairly, says Helmke. For example, prior to the election, about 60 percent of both Trump opponents and approvers thought that votes would be counted as intended at the level of the national government. After the election, however, confidence increased to more than 80 percent among Trump opponents, but fell to about 25 percent among Trump approvers.

“I’m deeply worried about the divide in confidence in the election system that our data reveal,” says Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College and one of the founders of Bright Line Watch. “Far too many Trump supporters say they lack confidence in the national vote count and don’t see Joe Biden as the rightful winner. Even if some of them are expressing their political viewpoint through their responses, those sentiments can be deeply damaging to our democracy, which relies on the losing side accepting the legitimacy of the outcome.”

Why does it matter if most Republican voters still think Biden lost? (2020, December 3)
retrieved 3 December 2020
from https://phys.org/new