Is American democracy more resilient than we thought?

Before the midterms, warnings of an impending democratic crackup were rife. Most centered on Trump-backed candidates who said they wouldn’t have certified President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 – raising questions about what might happen, should they win, in 2024. 

Why We Wrote This

After a relatively smooth midterm election, America’s democracy seems less vulnerable to a crisis of legitimacy than many had feared. But experts still warn of anti-democratic trends.

In the end, however, voters mostly rejected these candidates. And having lost, many of them did what former President Donald Trump did not: They quickly conceded.

The results have led some to suggest that the dire warnings about democracy in peril were unduly alarmist

Yet some scholars say the need for vigilance in protecting democracy remains. It’s not just a question of who oversees elections in swing states. Other practices, from gerrymandering to voting restrictions, could still undermine America’s system of representative self-government. And many point to rising threats of political violence as cause for concern.

“There is a certain path to stealing the election in 2024 that seems to be smaller, if not outright foreclosed – and that’s great,” says Zoe Marks, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “The broader question that I’m concerned with is whether or not there are other paths to stealing an election.”

Is American democracy more resilient than we thought? Or has it just won a temporary reprieve? 

Three weeks after elections in which democracy itself seemed to be on the ballot, those questions still hang in the air.

Before the midterms, warnings of an impending democratic crackup were rife. Most centered on Trump-backed candidates running for offices that oversee elections who said they wouldn’t have certified President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 – raising questions about whether they might do the same in 2024. Under this scenario, the peaceful transfer of power to the winner, a bedrock of democracy, seemed imperiled by the possible elevation of election deniers in states like Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Why We Wrote This

After a relatively smooth midterm election, America’s democracy seems less vulnerable to a crisis of legitimacy than many had feared. But experts still warn of anti-democratic trends.

In the end, however, voters mostly rejected these candidates. And having lost, many of them did what former President Donald Trump did not: They quickly conceded.

The midterms also defied predictions of administrative chaos. Elections ran smoothly in nearly every district. Partisan poll watchers didn’t disrupt voting or counting. Widespread unrest, fed by social media rumors and distrust in the system, never materialized.

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