National Perspective: Confidence in election system recovers | CraigDailyPress.com
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National Perspective: Confidence in election system recovers

David M. Shribman
National Perspective

Consumer confidence in the economy is down 5% over the past month. That is worrisome and it is significant. But another measure of consumer confidence is measurably up since then — and it is welcome as well as significant.

Americans’ ratings of the overall performance of the country’s democracy are higher than they were before the election. Public confidence that the votes in last month’s midterm congressional elections were counted fairly has substantially increased since the election. And the greatest growth in that feeling of confidence came from the group that failed to meet its electoral expectations: Republicans.
These findings emerge from a representative survey of the American public just released by Bright Line Watch, a nonpartisan group that monitors threats to democracy in the United States. It prompted the scholars who oversee the project to breathe a tentative sigh of relief.

“These encouraging results show that confidence in the election system can recover and that we can resist attacks on the legitimacy of our elections,” said Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth College political scientist involved in the survey. “The increase in voter confidence among Republicans that their own votes would be counted and that votes in their states would be counted correctly was encouraging.”



The midterms were conducted amid grave worries, stirred by former President Donald Trump and his allies, that Americans may have lost faith in the integrity of the country’s elections. But that apparently isn’t the case. Americans’ confidence their vote would be properly counted increased among both Republicans (where the figure rose from 68% to 78%) and Democrats (where the rate, already high at 95%, inched up to 97%).

The Bright Line Watch results are in line with a Pew Research Center study finding that the rate of Americans who voted for Republican candidates and believed that elections around the country were conducted properly more than doubled from 2020 to 2022.



Even so, there remains traces of skepticism among Republicans about election integrity.

“There’s less skepticism in the battleground states, where there has been a lot of noise about corrupt elections and where there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Charles Stewart III, who directs the MIT Election Data and Science Lab and is co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. “It‘s a hangover from the 2020 election when Trump aimed his fire at states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.“

As Americans struggled to keep the COVID-19 virus under control, a parallel virus swept across the country: a lack of faith in the integrity of elections, the great American engines of democracy.

But the election-deniers that Mr. Trump endorsed in prominent races were defeated, and only one candidate has raised vocal questions about the last month’s outcomes. Kari Lake, the GOP Arizona gubernatorial candidate who conducted a Trump-style campaign, filed suit last week claiming she should be declared the winner even though vote totals (endorsed by state officials, including outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey) showed that Katie Hobbs had prevailed by more than 17,000 votes. She is the only major-office candidate not to concede.

“We can hope the Arizona case is the exception that proves the rule,” said Mr. Nyhan. “The 2020 playbook is being tried there but so far isn‘t getting traction. Overall, we are not seeing the kind of attention or disruption that we saw in 2020.”

Even so, in the past few years, a new industry has developed, creating websites and holding rallies in battleground states with the aim of keeping the election-denial movement alive. “What‘s different now — unlike the past, when losers got grumpy for a while and then maybe ran again and won — is the existence of a mass movement in creating questions about the integrity of elections,“ said Mr. Stewart of MIT.

These questions would have been inconceivable even a quarter century ago. But two disputed elections — the virtual tie in 2000 that led to a recount spectacle in Florida and the 2020 election when Mr. Trump, citing irregularities that courts repeatedly turned aside, claimed the election had been stolen — have created uncertainties in an area of American life that until recently provided great certainty.

“The issue of whether our democratic institutions work was never called into question before,” said Shirley Anne Warshaw, an emerita political scientist at Gettysburg College. “There always are going to be a degree of fraud in our elections — dead people ‘vote’ and some people manage to vote twice. But it’s absolutely insignificant. It is stunning that we even talk about this. One of the bedrocks of American democracy is that the election system works.”

It is impossible to know whether the insistence of Mr. Trump — already a declared 2024 presidential candidate — that he won the last presidential election is a factor in his steep decline in favorability. The latest Quinnipiac Poll, released in recent days, showed only 31% of registered voters with a favorable opinion of the 45th president — the lowest figure since July 2015, when he was regarded as a fringe presidential candidate. Though some 59% of registered voters have an unfavorable view of Mr. Trump, 70% of GOP voters have a favorable view of him.

The United States has had several moments when its survival, or its survival as a democracy, was imperiled. The great threats of the 19th century — the War of 1812, the Civil War — were followed by new moments of jeopardy in the 20th century, when the Great Depression tested the endurance of democratic capitalism; when World War II tested the ability of democratic nations to defeat the fascist tyrannies of central Europe; and the Cold War, when democracy and communism were in constant conflict.

Indeed, in his 1961 State of the Union address, John F. Kennedy raised the question of the survival of democratic values in a world where the United States and the Soviet Union — and their proxies around the world — offered competing visions of political rule.

“I speak today in an hour of national peril and national opportunity,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Before my term has ended, we shall have to test anew whether a nation organized and governed such as ours can endure. The outcome is by no means certain. The answers are by no means clear. All of us together — this administration, this Congress, this nation — must forge those answers.”

The answers today are by no means clear. All of us must forge those answers.

David M. Shribman
Courtesy photo

David M. Shribman is the former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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