Majority Of Americans Support Values Of Democracy — Even Though Politicians They Support May Not

💡What To Know:

  • Both Democrat and Republican voters showed majority support for democratic values.
  • A majority of participants denounced political violence.
  • Some elected officials showed less support, particularly Republicans denying the 2020 election.

HANOVER, N.H. — Even though it feels like democracy is teetering on the brink in the United States, a new study is offering hope, revealing that a majority of Americans support democratic values and oppose political violence. However, it turns out that the people they vote for don’t always hold to these democratic norms.

This research, conducted by the Polarization Research Lab, began in the aftermath of the deadly events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot and subsequent debates over the 2020 presidential election’s legitimacy.

Democracy is under threat in America, but these data show we are not on the brink of a citizen-supported push toward authoritarianism,” says study senior author Sean Westwood, director of the Polarization Research Lab and an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College, in a media release.

This sentiment echoes across the political spectrum, with Democrats and Republicans alike expressing their disapproval of anti-democratic actions and partisan violence.

The study, a collaborative effort involving scholars from Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers collected responses from approximately 45,100 Americans over a period spanning from September 2022 to October 2023, which included the 2022 midterm elections. An additional group of 5,230 individuals was interviewed at multiple intervals to gauge the stability of their democratic commitments.

“When it comes to anti-democratic behavior, there is a misperception that citizens of one political party are more likely to violate democratic norms than the other, but that’s just not the case,” notes study lead author Derek Holliday, a postdoctoral fellow at the Polarization Research Lab.

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Democrats and Republicans alike expressed their disapproval of anti-democratic actions and partisan violence. (Credit: Vincent M.A. Janssen from Pexels)

The research scrutinized support for violations of democratic norms, including reducing polling stations in opposition-leaning areas and censoring partisan media, with startling results showing minimal partisan differences in support for such actions.

One of the study’s more alarming findings is the widespread misperception of support for political violence, with a significant portion of Americans believing that members of the opposing political party endorse such extreme measures. Yet, the actual support for actions like assault, arson, and murder was markedly low, underscoring a “massive mismatch” between perceived and real attitudes toward violence.

“Public opposition to anti-democratic actions and political violence was not only overwhelming, but also remarkably stable throughout the year,” explains study co-author Yphtach Lelkes, co-director at the Polarization Research Lab and associate professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School.

The study also revealed a large division between the general populace — which largely supports democratic norms — and a portion of elected officials who exhibit a readiness to challenge these principles. This finding suggests a disconnect between the democratic values cherished by American citizens and the actions of some of their representatives.

According to the study, the real gap in support for democracy is not between Democratic and Republican voters, but between Republican voters and Republican representatives. Specifically, the report singles out Republicans who continue to claim the 2020 election was stolen.

“It is possible election-denying Republican officials are representing the views of more electorally relevant voting groups, such as primary voters. Such voters in the Republican party tend to be older, more conservative, pay greater attention to politics, and have a higher sense of self-efficacy. However, we show in that voters matching these demographic profiles are generally less likely to support loyalty to the party over the Constitution in contested elections,” the team writes in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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