Voters appear to be increasingly concerned about the integrity of democracy. According to an NBC News poll Sunday, Americans now rank “threats to democracy” as the most important issue facing the country — higher, even, than the cost of living and the economy, which was just months ago top of mind. The shift may in part be explained by a slight inflationary cool-down, which has seen gas prices dip below four dollars per gallon, where prices were in March. But more than that, the poll seems to speak to a growing recognition, by the American public, that the GOP’s sweeping assault on the country’s election system has put democracy itself on the ballot.
“Politically, for Joe Biden and the Democrats, the news is not all bad,” Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff, told NBC News.
The Democrats still have an uphill battle to win: The president’s approval ratings are up, but remain in the low 40s; his party has notched a number of legislative wins in recent weeks, but voters as a whole remain pessimistic about the direction of the country; and while the GOP may be running a bunch of dangerous weirdos this fall, it still enjoys a historical advantage in off-year elections that tend to serve as a referendum on the party in power. There are also some caveats in the NBC News poll: For one, Republicans and Democrats may have different definitions of what constitutes “threats to democracy.” Are they Donald Trump‘s bogus claims of election fraud, which are Republican orthodoxy at this point? Or is it, say, the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, which Trump has sought to convince his supporters was politically motivated “assault” that “could only take place in broken” country? Another caveat: “Threats to democracy” ranked higher than “cost of living” and “jobs/economy” individually — but combined, those economic concerns may still be the biggest consideration for voters this cycle. All of this is to say that Democrats shouldn’t get cocky; they’re going to have to fight to keep the House and Senate. “Heading into Labor Day, the political dynamics could be worse” for Democrats, as Horwitt explained. “But they also need to get a lot better and fast.”
Still, there are a few reasons to be optimistic. Notably, the poll revealed that most Americans believe the various investigations into Trump’s alleged improprieties should remain underway. The poll also bore out a narrowing enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. Not six months ago, Republicans held a 17-point advantage over Democrats when it comes to voter interest in the midterms. But in the poll released Sunday, that lead had shrunk to two points, with 68 percent of Republicans expressing high interest in the November election compared to 66 percent of Democrats.
The most significant change over that timespan, of course, was the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for abortion to be immediately outlawed or dramatically scaled back in half the country. For many voters, Roe’s rescission laid bare the dangers of minoritarian rule by the GOP. “You don’t have to agree with abortion to want to honor peoples’ rights,” as one voter told NBC News. (Abortion itself, it should be noted, ranked seventh among voters in the polls.)
Democrats have also built more momentum of late with a series of legislative victories, including the landmark Inflation Reduction Act, whose passage was more expeditious than usual, as Politico notes, because Republicans were too busy defending Trump against potential Espionage Act and obstruction charges related to the raid. Republicans do still hold a small advantage in NBC News’ poll: Among registered voters, 47 percent said they prefer GOP control of Capitol Hill while 45 percent preferred the Democrats. But that Republican advantage could evaporate if voters continue to grow concerned about the party’s radical agenda as Democrats rally Americans around a better alternative.