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Most Americans trust elections are fair, but sharp divides exist, a new poll finds

Most Americans trust that elections are fair. But only a third of Republicans agree, a poll finds.
Kaz Fantone for NPR
Most Americans trust that elections are fair. But only a third of Republicans agree, a poll finds.

A majority of Americans trust that elections are fair, are confident in their state and local governments' ability to administer elections, and will trust the results in 2022 and in 2024 regardless of whether their preferred candidate wins, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.

The survey also found that most Americans feel that former President Donald Trump has continued to say the 2020 election was rigged mostly because he didn't like the outcome.

But those results are largely because of Democrats and independents.

Many Republicans appear to have bought into Trump's lies about nonexistent widespread fraud in an election he lost.

The story is not simply a divide between the parties but also among those who tend to vote for Republicans. There was a big education gap — between those with college degrees and those without — that emerged in the survey when it came to Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.


The poll also found President Biden not faring well. His approval rating is down to 44%, with almost half disapproving. And among Democratic voters, there is little confidence in him as the standard-bearer once again in 2024.

Just over a third of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they thought the party has a better chance of winning the presidency in 2024 with Biden on the ballot again as opposed to someone else. Forty-four percent said someone else would be better, and 20% weren't sure.

This survey of 1,209 adults was conducted nationally from Oct. 18 to 22 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, meaning results could be 4 points lower or 4 points higher. Of those surveyed, 1,032 are registered voters. When they are referenced, there is a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Most trust that elections are fair

Overall, 58% said they trust elections in the country either a great deal or a good amount.

But while almost 9 in 10 Democrats and 60% of independents said so, just a third of Republicans agreed.

There were also big gaps by education. There's a 19-point gap between college-educated and non-college-educated on the question, and an even wider chasm among whites with and without college degrees.

Seventy-two percent of whites with degrees said they had trust in elections, while less than half of non-college-educated whites said they did.


Confident local governments will conduct accurate elections in 2022

There was more trust in state and local governments than the electoral process overall — even though all elections in this country are conducted at the local level.

Seventy percent said they are either confident or very confident in their state and local governments to conduct elections fairly and accurately in 2022 — and that mostly cuts across party lines. That included 60% of Republicans.

A similar margin of adults overall said they would trust the results if their candidate for Congress does not win in 2022, including a slight majority of Republicans (53%).

Republicans, though, did seem affected by Trump's messaging, because 60% said they have less confidence that their state and local governments will conduct the elections fairly and accurately since the 2020 presidential election.

Sour grapes

Democrats and independents mostly see Republican griping about voter fraud as sour grapes.

When asked about states' efforts to conduct additional recounts of the 2020 presidential election results, 53% overall said those took place mostly because state officials didn't like the outcome.

Democrats (84%) and a majority of independents (56%) believed this to be the case, but a whopping three-quarters of Republicans said those extra counts happened mostly because there are real cases of fraud in these states.

When it came to Trump, there was even wider agreement with Democrats and independents that he's making false claims about the election being rigged mostly because he didn't like his loss.

Among Democrats, it was almost unanimous — 96% — while 69% of independents also said so. But when it came to Republicans, it was whiplash. Three-quarters again said it was mostly because he is right that there were real cases of fraud that changed the results.

No matter how many times it's said that that is flatly untrue, the overwhelming majority of Republicans say they simply don't believe it. It's a lie that Trump continues to push and is amplified by the conservative media echo chamber.

Looking more closely at the Republican education gap

On a host of questions, a very wide education gap emerges among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the kinds of people who essentially make up the universe of those who vote for GOP candidates.

On trusting if elections are fair, there is a 19-point divide between those with degrees and those without. About half of those with them say they trust elections, while less than 3 in 10 without degrees said so.

On trusting their local governments to conduct elections fairly and accurately, those with degrees were 12 points more likely to say they do trust them; on whether they will trust results, win or lose in 2022, those with degrees were 18 points more likely to say so; and there was a similar 17-point divide on whether they will trust the 2024 results even if their preferred candidate loses.

On state recounts, there was no difference — 74% said they took place mostly because of real cases of fraud in those states. But when it came to Trump's claims, those without degrees were 10 points more likely to believe him.

Not much confidence in Biden or Trump as nominees

A glaring finding in the survey for Biden is that just 36% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents thought they would have a better chance in 2024 with Biden on the ballot as opposed to someone else (44%).

Nonwhites were 10 points more likely to say Democrats have a better chance of winning with Biden than without him — but even they were split with 43% saying so and 43% saying someone else would be better.

That is not a good starting place for a president who might seek reelection.

When it comes to 2022, Democrats have a 3-point edge, 44% to 41%, on who Americans would rather see in charge of Congress. But that is down from an 8-point advantage in September.

Trump starts in a better position than Biden with his base, but it's still not an overwhelming vote of confidence for a former president with as much sway as he appears to have with GOP elected officials.

Just half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they'd be better off with Trump as their nominee than with someone else (35%).

But here there was also a major divide between those with college degrees and those without. While 58% of those who don't have a college degree said they would have a better chance with Trump, just 41% of those with degrees said so.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.