In assessing the damage that Donald J. Trump has done to confidence in American democracy, we’re often shown polls indicating the rising percentage of Republicans who believe his Big Lie about the 2020 presidential results.
Yes, it’s alarming that a recent Politico–Morning Consult survey showed 72 percent of self-identified 2020 Trump voters say they believe that election was “probably” or “definitely” not free or fair. But now a Marist poll for NPR–PBS has an even more sinister finding: “A majority of Americans (62%) say they will trust the results of the 2024 election even if the candidate they support loses, which includes 82% of Democrats but only one third of Republicans (33%).”
So this doesn’t just reflect a credulous belief in Trump’s Big Lie. It echoes Trump pre-election claim that he couldn’t lose unless the election was rigged. It’s a rejection of the very possibility voters could decide they’d prefer a Democratic to a Republican president three years from now, without even knowing the names of the contenders or hearing a single allegation of actual voter fraud or skullduggery in vote counting. Or worse yet, it shows a majority of voters in one of the two major parties doesn’t even care what their fellow citizens actually want if it differs from their own wishes.
How could that be? Well, it’s no great secret that some conservatives don’t even fundamentally believe in democracy; they’re the ones who are quick to tell you that America isn’t a democracy at all but a republic. Others (Mitt Romney famously expressed this opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign) are convinced a great number of Democratic votes are inherently corrupt because the people who cast them are self-interestedly voting for income transfers from wealthy people. Still others think a significant number of Democratic voters have been brainwashed by Hollywood celebrities or mainstream news media or “woke” academics or cabals of Satan-worshiping pedophiles — you know, the shadowy forces that control the U.S. government and American culture itself — which means disregarding or canceling their votes is the only moral thing to do. Add up all these rationalizations for banana-republic politics and you’ve got a pretty good coalition for rejecting adverse election results in advance.
Granted, it’s not easy to contend that elections run under the same rules by the same people can be accepted or rejected strictly on grounds of the partisan outcome. But that’s where we are five years and one year after Donald Trump’s two popular-vote losses, both of which he claimed were huge popular-vote wins. Democrats would do well to win big in 2024 if they can win at all.