A new national study by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia reveals a stunning number of Americans endorsing policies that could challenge the U.S. Constitution, even as a majority express a preference for democracy over other forms of governance. This study of 2,008 U.S. registered voters conducted from Aug. 25 to Sept. 11, 2023, is the initial phase of a series by the Center for Politics’ Project Home Fire to gauge sentiments as the 2024 presidential race looms. For more information on the study, including figures and charts spelling out the findings, see this companion presentation.
2024 electoral landscape: Biden vs. Trump
In a head-to-head race between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, 52% said they plan to vote for Biden and 48% for Trump, mirroring 2020 outcomes. Respondents reported similarly negative views of both candidates, with 40% approving and 50% disapproving of Biden’s job performance, and 39% approving and 53% disapproving of Trump. Voters split 40%-35% in favor of at least probably supporting Democratic candidates over Republican candidates in the 2024 congressional elections, with 25% opting for a middle ground, prioritizing qualifications over party affiliation.
Those who intended to support one candidate expressed a great deal of suspicion toward supporters of the other side, expressed in roughly even proportions among both Trump and Biden voters:
— A staggering majority of both Biden (70%) and Trump (68%) voters believed electing officials from the opposite party would result in lasting harm to the United States.
— Roughly half (52% Biden voters, 47% Trump voters) viewed those who supported the other party as threats to the American way of life.
— About 40% of both groups (41% Biden voters, 38% Trump voters) at least somewhat believed that the other side had become so extreme that it is acceptable to use violence to prevent them from achieving their goals.
Playing with fire
When rated on a scale from 0 (completely disagree) to 100 (completely agree), 69% of respondents at least somewhat agreed (defined as a response of 61 or higher on the 100-point scale) with the statement, “Democracy is preferable to any non-democratic form of government.” However, nearly half of the overall sample frequently expressed opinions that veered towards authoritarianism.
A significant share of respondents also expressed doubts about both the future of democracy and even the United States as it is currently composed. Roughly two in five (41%) of respondents leaning towards Donald Trump in 2024 at least somewhat agreed with the idea of red states seceding from the Union to form their own separate country, while 30% of Biden supporters expressed a similar sentiment, but for blue states. Disturbingly, nearly one-third (31%) of Trump supporters and about a quarter (24%) of Biden supporters at least somewhat agree that democracy is no longer a viable system and that the country should explore alternative forms of government to ensure stability and progress.
Partisan views on governance and rights
Respondents were also presented with a range of statements suggesting using state power to achieve certain outcomes, gauging the respondents’ willingness to employ authoritarian methods for partisan aims.
Those who intend to vote for Biden in 2024 were likelier than Trump voters to express support for the following (percentages shown are those who expressed at least some agreement with the statement):
Freedom of speech and rights: 31% of Biden supporters, in contrast to 25% of Trump supporters, at least somewhat agreed with limiting certain rights, including freedom of speech, to safeguard the feelings and safety of marginalized groups.
Regulation of discriminatory views: A significant 47% of Biden voters, as opposed to 35% of Trump voters, believed the government should regulate or restrict the expression of views deemed discriminatory or offensive.
Firearms control: There’s a pronounced divide regarding gun control, with 74% of Biden supporters favoring restrictions on the quantity and types of firearms, irrespective of constitutional interpretations. In contrast, only 35% of Trump supporters felt the same.
Wealth redistribution: Addressing income inequality by redistributing all wealth over a certain limit to address income inequality garnered support from 56% of Biden voters, compared to 39% from Trump voters.
Corporate diversity: A substantial 69% of Biden voters believed in mandating policies requiring corporations to ensure diversity at all levels of leadership. This sentiment was shared by 43% of Trump voters.
When examining the sentiments of those leaning towards Trump in the upcoming 2024 elections, the following preferences emerged:
National symbols and leaders: 50% of Trump voters, compared to 32% of Biden voters, at least somewhat agreed that laws should be enacted to require citizens to show respect for national symbols and leaders.
Suspending elections: In times of crisis, 30% of Trump supporters felt that elections should be suspended, with a slightly smaller proportion (25%) of Biden supporters echoing this sentiment.
Patriotism and loyalty: 37% of Trump voters, versus 24% of Biden voters, believed in enacting laws to restrict the expression of views deemed unpatriotic or disloyal.
Presidential powers: Concerning national security decisions, 37% of Trump voters were in favor of giving the president the authority to bypass Congress, while 31% of Biden voters shared this perspective.
Protest regulations: 45% of Trump supporters, against 30% of Biden supporters, felt that laws should be enacted that limit demonstrations and protests that the government deems potentially disruptive to public order.
An almost identical number of Biden (37%) and Trump (36%) voters at least somewhat agreed on the need for certain religious groups to be subjected to government monitoring and limitations to ensure national security.
“We stand on the precipice of a developing emergency,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics. “Dislike of the other side combined with a pervasive disregard for the fundamental freedoms contained in the U.S. Constitution poses a grave threat. If these sentiments go unchecked and grow, our nation could face disastrous division.”
Divergent views on past elections and key issues
2020 election perspectives: Looking back on the 2020 election, 56% of those who intend to vote for Trump in 2024 at least somewhat agreed that Trump actually won the 2020 election, but that it was stolen from him through election fraud and voting manipulation (only 9% of Biden voters felt similarly). Meanwhile, 88% of Biden’s prospective 2024 voters at least somewhat agreed that the 2020 election was secure and free of fraud and that Biden won fair and square, while just 25% of Trump voters felt similarly.
Immigration: Majorities of both Biden (78%) and Trump (58%) 2024 voters at least somewhat agreed that immigration reform was needed to humanely address the needs of undocumented immigrants and enrich our society’s diversity. However, Trump voters expressed much more support (70%, compared to just 32% of Biden voters) for legislation that would restrict illegal immigrants’ access to employment and essential services, including healthcare, welfare, and education.
Education: Additionally, majorities of Biden (85%) and Trump (55%) voters at least somewhat agreed that “school curriculum should include teaching about systemic injustices and the negative aspects of our nation’s history.” However, just over half of Trump voters (51%) versus just 28% of Biden voters at least somewhat agreed that “public schools should be required to teach civic education that emphasizes patriotism and de-emphasizes any negative aspects of our nation’s history.”
“The deep divisions within the American electorate are strikingly apparent across various dimensions, from policy positions to priorities and values,” said Larry Schack, co-founder of Project Home Fire. “What is most concerning about this study is the mainstream acceptance of authoritarian means to achieve preferred political outcomes. This trend is no longer limited to a specific individual or a substantial minority; it now extends to both Biden and Trump voters, indicating a willingness to bypass democratic norms in pursuit of their respective goals.”
In the coming months, the Center for Politics will release additional information from this study, delving deeper into the mindset of American voters and spotlighting new findings specific to bridging the American political divide and shedding unique insight into the evolving electoral landscape as we approach the pivotal 2024 elections.
Project Home Fire is a unit of the Center for Politics focused on studying the American electorate. For more information on this ongoing polling and data analytics project and how it is being conducted, see the previous stories in the Crystal Ball exploring the deep and persistent divides between Biden and Trump voters; what drives support for secession; the outsized role immigration plays in fueling our national divide; who is most open to compromise in American politics; the polarization of attitudes on voting rules; Biden/Trump voter views on the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection; and public attitudes on abortion.
Author: UVA Center for Politics