The Joe Biden presidential campaign is positioning the 2024 election as a referendum on democracy. But a new poll suggests that defending America’s constitutional system of checks and balances is no longer an electoral slam dunk.
A startling 39 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of Republicans, think it’s a decent idea for Donald Trump to act as a dictator for a day to begin his prospective second term, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst survey released Wednesday.
In a series of comments, beginning last December, Trump has said he plans to be a dictator, but only on “day one” of a second term. The point of seeking authoritarian power, he’s said, is to “build the wall” and “drill, drill, drill.”
The UMass Amherst poll posed the following questions to 1,064 respondents: “Donald Trump recently said that if elected, he would be a dictator only on the first day of his second term.” It then asked, “Do you think that this is a good or bad idea for the country?”
Only 44 percent of adults completely rebelled at the notion of giving the former president — who is currently facing 91 felony charges — dictatorial authority, calling it “definitely bad” for America. Another 16 percent judged that it was “probably bad.” Those most opposed were women (67 percent), African Americans (82 percent), and 2020 Biden supporters (91 percent).
A full 15 percent of those surveyed responded that making Trump dictator for a day was “definitely good” for the country, while another 24 percent said it was “probably good.”
Underscoring the authoritarian leanings of the far right, the MAGA crowd, in particular, appears to love Trump’s dictator talk. The poll found that 76 percent of the former president’s 2020 voters give a thumbs-up to entrusting Trump with 24 hours of tin-pot powers.
This past weekend, Trump attempted to walk back his dictator talk, claiming it was made “in jest.” In a statement to Rolling Stone, Tatishe Nteta, director of the UMass Amherst poll and provost professor of political science, emphasizes that significant “majorities across gender, generational, class, and racial groups” believe that “Trump’s dictatorial inclinations will be bad for the nation.”
“The lone holdouts are conservatives, Republicans, and Trump voters who seemingly would welcome a dictator in the White House, believing such an administration would be a good thing for the nation,” says Nteta. “As Trump is facing a likely close contest with Biden, it comes as no shock that he has recently attempted to walk back these comments, in hopes of broadening his electoral coalition, but the damage may already be done.”
The same poll revealed a sharp split in views of Trump’s criminal culpability for seeking to remain in office despite his 2020 election loss. It asked respondents whether Trump is guilty of the “federal charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.” Forty-two percent of Americans judge him “probably” or “definitely” innocent, while 58 percent think he’s probably or definitely guilty. The partisanship here, too, is extreme: 94 percent of 2020 Biden voters are ready to convict, while 87 percent of 2020 Trump voters support an acquittal.
The UMass Amherst poll also delivered several other eye-popping findings relating to the fallout from the 2020 election — including that 40 percent of the nation believes that Americans convicted of crimes for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol are “probably” or “definitely” deserving of a pardon.
In addition, the poll asked about the nation’s high court, which is likely to have a final say on issues ranging from whether Trump can claim presidential immunity for his acts leading up to Jan. 6 and whether states can boot him off the ballot as an insurrectionist. Nearly two thirds of Americans (64 percent) believe that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election, owing to wife Ginni’s emailing state legislators seeking to overturn Trump’s election loss, and her communications with Trump’s then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows, about keeping the 45th president in office.
The UMass Amherst polling results have been rolling out this week. The poll also provides a standard horse-race snapshot of the 2024 race. It found Trump leading Biden narrowly, 39 percent to 36 percent — with more than a quarter of the electorate calling the rematch “very bad for the country.”
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