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Poll: Voters say Democracy is ‘under threat’

Rioters clash with police outside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Samuel Corum
AFP via Getty Images
Rioters clash with police outside the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Democrats and Republicans don’t seem to agree on much these days, but a new Goucher College poll, conducted in partnership with WYPR and The Baltimore Banner, found the majority of voters in both political parties thought that the rule of law in the U.S. and democracy itself is under threat.

Democrats like Mark Israel, who lives in Montgomery County, are concerned because of protestors who rioted on Jan. 6 last year in the U.S. Capitol seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“You had an attempt to, by violence and murder, have a coup and install a non-elected autocrat,” Israel said in an interview. “That's a pretty serious threat.”

About 81% of Democrats share Israel’s view that the events on Jan. 6 were “an insurrection and an attack on democracy,” according to the poll. Only 17% of the Republicans surveyed agreed.

Republican voters said the bigger threat to democracy is the election process.

“I don’t trust our voting system as much as I used to,” said Kim Mallory, a Republican in Queen Anne’s County.

News reports of incorrect ballot counts in other states during various election cycles made her wary of the system.

“It makes you think, ‘Well, is my vote actually being counted correctly?’” she said.

But for now, she trusts the process in Maryland.

Mallory was among the majority of Republicans who said they were confident the elections in Maryland would be conducted fairly and accurately. The remaining 41% of Republicans disagreed.

Among those lacking confidence in the elections this year was Brent Bailey, a Republican in Charles County.

“The fact that we even do mail-in ballots in this state should be appalling to anybody,” Bailey said.

While working inside a nursing home, he claims that he saw employees coaching voters.

“Staff tell people they need to vote. They take them to the polls, and you don't know what happens from that point,” he said.

Security of ballots and voting machines were other concerns he had.

There is no evidence that Maryland’s voting machines are unsecure, and voter fraud is exceedingly rare.

Despite this, more than half of the Republican voters polled said President Joe Biden only won the 2020 election due to voter fraud.

Fear of potential voter fraud is one reason Sean Kennedy, a Democrat in Baltimore City, is worried about the state of democracy.

“There has been an ongoing effort to discredit the results of elections before they happen,” Kennedy said.

The goal is to “bypass the results of a free and fair election” if individuals are unsatisfied with the outcome, he said.

Voter suppression of marginalized people is another issue he is worried about though has not witnessed any such attempts in Maryland.

Of course, there are some concerns that weren’t captured by the recent poll.

“Social media has had a seriously detrimental impact on democracy,” said Sabino Epiceno, a Republican in Prince George’s County.

Epiceno criticized the echo chambers created by social media websites and some television networks.

“I think to my parents who, God bless them, they're good people, but since they retired several years ago, they spend the vast majority of their day watching Fox News all day long,” Epiceno said. “And for better or worse, Fox News is not always the most accurate source of information. But if that's all the information you're getting, then you think that that's correct.”

Peter, a Republican in Harford County, is concerned about another risk to democracy: infringements on individual rights.

“I don't think it's right taking away some of our God-given rights, or our rights that are given to us by the Constitution,” said Peter, who asked that WYPR not use his last name because he said he works for a defense contractor and could get in trouble for speaking with a reporter. “It's one of our rights to bear arms.”

That said, he is not opposed to making it harder for some people to get guns.

“If it was a little bit harder to get them, it might be harder for those people that get them and do bad things,” Peter said.

He is also worried about the potential loss of the right to an abortion after last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“You're taking away somebody's rights to deal with their own body,” Peter said. “Nobody should be told what they can and can't do with their body.”

Dave, a Democrat in Baltimore County who also asked that his last name not be used, is also worried about women losing reproductive rights.

“It's like, we're going back. We're going way back,” he said. “People control people — that's not good.”

He said he worries for his wife and three daughters.

According to the poll results, Peter and Dave are in good company. The vast majority of both Democrats and Republicans in Maryland said abortion should remain legal at least some of the time.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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