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One year on, Republicans still don’t consider Biden the rightful winner

December 22, 2021
protester carrying a sign that says STOP THE STEAL and a Trump-Pence flag.(Getty Images photo)

Latest Bright Line Watch survey traces ongoing weakening of US democracy.

Read the full report

Read Bright Line Watch’s latest (November 2021) survey, “Tempered expectations and hardened divisions a year into the Biden presidency.”

A year later, a large majority of Republican voters still refuses to acknowledge that President Biden won the 2020 election, which doesn’t bode well for US democracy. The most recent Bright Line Watch survey finds that just 27 percent of Republicans believe Biden is the rightful presidential winner, compared to 94 percent of Democrats.

Bright Line Watch, a nonpartisan watchdog group of leading political scientists who monitor US democratic practices, was cofounded by Gretchen Helmke, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester, and her colleagues at the University of Chicago and Dartmouth College. The watchdog group started regular surveys about the health of US democracy in February 2017.

“For a democracy to survive, parties must be willing to lose elections and politicians must be willing to acknowledge when they have lost,” warns Helmke. “The fact that the Republican Party is unwilling to acknowledge the 2020 loss fundamentally undermines the most basic principle of our democracy.”

A bar chart with the title BIDEN RIGHTFUL WINNER compares the total number of people and the number of Democrats and the number of Republicans who believe that Joe Biden is the rightful president. In February 2021, the overall number is 64%, Democrats 97% and Republicans 27%. In June 2021, the overall number is 64%, the Democrats 96% and the Republicans 26%. And in November 2021 the overall number is 63%, Democrats 94%, and Republicans 27%.

In the News

Based on the latest Bright Line Watch report, The Washington Post writes that a “new survey provides little comfort about democracy’s future” while the Los Angeles Times notes that “Republicans’ belief in Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ holds steady as confidence in US elections dips.” Bloomberg cites the report as evidence the US democracy faces real threats.

The group’s latest survey finds that voters’ confidence in next year’s midterm elections has already been affected: only 62 percent of Americans said they were “very” or “somewhat confident” that votes nationwide would be counted correctly. Divisions along partisan lines have notably deepened. While 80 percent of Democrats generally expressed confidence in fair elections, only 42 percent of Republicans felt that way.

Among the key findings

  • Partisan divisions over the legitimacy of the 2020 election remain profound.
  • Democrats underestimate the commitment of Republican supporters to democratic norms and principles, and Republicans underestimate the commitment of Democrats.
  • While support for political violence had been overstated in prior surveys, millions of Americans still explicitly endorse political violence directed against the other party.
  • Experts and the public believe that fundamental changes are needed to make the American government work for current times. Most needed are policy and rule changes that don’t require constitutional amendments.
  • Experts strongly prefer Senate seats to be apportioned to states by population numbers rather than equally. This preference is shared by Democrats, but opposed by Republicans and Independents. Overall, the public prefers the status quo.
  • Experts are relatively evenly divided about which of numerous problems facing American democracy is most severe, though they rank economic inequality, unrepresentative political institutions, and racial inequality generally highest.
  • Experts see a number of reforms to campaign and legislative rules and practices as beneficial to democracy. With few exceptions, however, they think these reforms are quite unlikely to be enacted.
  • Expert and public perceptions of the performance of US democracy have changed little since June 2021.

Originally cofounded by the University of Rochester’s Gretchen Helmke and three other political scientists—Brendan Nyhan and John Carey of Dartmouth College, and Susan Stokes of the University of Chicago—Bright Line Watch is a nonpartisan initiative that conducts regular surveys designed to gauge the overall stability and performance of American democracy. Mitchell Sanders ’97 (PhD), of Rochester-based Meliora Research, is the group’s director of survey research.


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