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Eight out of 10 Americans believe the U.S. faces a threat to democracy

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll out today finds that more than 8 in 10 Americans believe there is a serious threat to democracy. It's a striking finding, but people don't agree on where that threat is coming from. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro has been digging into the results. Hey there.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Domenico, I mean, 8 in 10 is a lot of people who think that there's a serious threat to democracy.

MONTANARO: It is. Eighty-three percent say they believe there's a serious threat. That's the highest Marist has recorded since even right after the January 6 riot at the Capitol. But when we followed up and asked which political party was the biggest threat, you saw there's little agreement. Forty-nine percent said Republicans. Forty-five percent said Democrats.

Democrats see that threat coming from the lies that former President Trump has been pushing, with baseless claims of a stolen election that have been disproven. But so many conservatives have been convinced of his election lies about voter fraud that, again, has not been - that has been proven not to be widespread, so they think Democrats are the threat. And experts will say that this division itself is a threat and one that plays into the hands of autocratic regimes around the world who have it out for the United States. That said, candidates who pushed election denialism did cost Republicans in swing states in the midterms.

SUMMERS: Despite a tougher-than-expected year, Republicans did win the House, so we are headed for an era of divided government in Congress. Despite all of our divisions, ironically, a huge number in this poll did say they want members of Congress to compromise, but they're not confident that they will. What do they want the next Congress to work together on?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, the top priority remains inflation, followed, by the way, by preserving democracy, which we know they don't agree on the solutions for. And then there's immigration, which has seen a huge surge lately. It's going to be tough to see a lot that they can reach across the aisle on, given just how entrenched conservatives, in particular in the House, are. But despite all the rancor, this past Congress was actually able to work together on some things, like Ukraine aid, some gun control measures, technology manufacturing and infrastructure. It may be one reason why we saw in the poll the highest percentage of people since 1998 saying this Congress accomplished more than recent Congresses. It was only 24% who said that. But still, it's higher than we've seen in quite a while.

SUMMERS: So keeping in mind that theme of divided government that we've been talking about, how did respondents say they view each party and the president?

MONTANARO: Well, no one really gets great grades in this poll. President Biden has just a 43% approval rating, but the percentage disapproving of the job he's doing is below 50% for the second time only in a year. Only 41% say that they like the GOP. Only 42% say they like the Democratic Party. So not great for either party. But one warning sign, particularly for Democrats, is with Gen Z and millennials - basically everybody under 40 who can vote. They're pretty disaffected with Democrats just as much as they're disaffected with Republicans. Just 41% of them said that they have a favorable view of Democrats. Forty-two percent actually said they have a favorable view of Republicans, and 1 in 5 said they were unsure of both. And this is the group that voted for Democrats by the widest margin in the midterms. So particularly, as they get older, this is a group that could be up for grabs, and it's a real reminder of how Democrats can't take these younger voters for granted.

SUMMERS: And you mentioned the economy as a top issue for voters, as it was in the midterms. But do we have any clues from the survey on who it's affecting most?

MONTANARO: Yeah, this was really interesting. Seven in 10 people said now is just not a good time to make a major purchase, like buying a car or a household appliance, and those most likely to say that were people who live in rural areas and voters 77 and older - members of the Silent or Greatest Generation. It's really just a reminder that the economy isn't the same for everyone, and people with less access to thriving industries or are retired and living on fixed incomes are often hit the hardest.

SUMMERS: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.