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Narrative backfire: 'Mainstream media' most widely feared threat to democracy in new poll

Despite efforts by Democrats, allied press to paint Trump and "MAGA Republicans" as threats to democracy, nearly as many in survey view President Biden as authoritarian threat as they do his predecessor.

October 19, 2022 4:09pm

Updated: October 19, 2022 11:19pm

Despite persistent efforts led by the Biden administration, House Democrats' Jan. 6 tribunal and allied media to paint former President Trump as authoritarian, nearly as many Americans view President Biden as a threat to democracy as they do Trump, according to a new poll — and the mainstream media itself looms as the most widely feared threat to American democracy.

The stunning results from the latest New York Times/Siena poll of registered voters follow a range of recent polling suggesting that by seeking to investigate, prosecute, and stigmatize their political opponents as anti-democratic "extremists," Biden and other Democrats are arousing fears among voters that it is they themselves who are acting in heavy-handed ways alien to the American democratic tradition.

A striking 71% of registered voters believe "American democracy is currently under threat," according to the New York Times/Siena poll.

Of those voters, 67% view Trump as a threat to democracy, with 45% calling the 45th president a "major threat" and 22% calling him a "minor threat."

Meanwhile, 60% view Biden as a threat to democracy, with 38% calling the current president a "major threat" and 22% calling him a "minor threat."

Among independents, 70% say they see Trump as some sort of threat to democracy, while 62% of them feel the same about Biden. 

Perhaps most striking, however, the poll found that of the registered voters who say democracy is under threat, more fear the "mainstream media" is a threat than Trump, Biden, Democrats, Republicans, the Supreme Court, the Electoral College, or voting by mail.

A whopping 84% of these voters — which translates to roughly 60% of all registered voters — view the media as a threat to democracy, with 59% calling the press a "major threat" and 25% calling it a "minor threat."

A mere 15% who say democracy is under threat don't blame the media.

This attitude toward the media was strikingly bipartisan, with 95% of Republicans, 83% of independents, and 70% of Democrats calling the press a threat. However, only 38% of Democrats deem the media a "major" threat, compared to 80% of Republicans and 53% of independents.

Prominent, mainstream press outlets have come under fire in recent months for portraying Trump and those criticizing the FBI's August raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as threats to democracy and national security, in some cases hastily reporting false or misleading information.

In key ways, the news media's coverage of the raid resembled how the press previously covered now-debunked allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election, with journalists prematurely weaving a narrative of Trump's guilt resting on flimsy underpinnings of anonymous government leaks and innuendo.

Meanwhile, back in government, Biden and his political allies, including Democrats in Congress, have repeatedly described Trump and his allies as dangers to the foundations of America, warning democracy itself is at stake and positioning themselves as its savior.

Perhaps most infamously, Biden last month delivered a speech in Philadelphia vilifying Trump and the Make America Great Again movement aligned with him. "Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic," he declared.

Biden clarified that "not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans" before adding: "But there's no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to this country."

A majority of Americans disapproved of Biden's speech as itself divisive, dangerous, and going too far, according to multiple polls.

One of the surveys found a striking 62% of independents said Biden's address was "a dangerous escalation in rhetoric and designed to incite conflict amongst Americans." Only 31% of independents said it was acceptable rhetoric during an election year.

Biden has on separate occasions also described Trump and his supporters as "semi-fascist" and the "MAGA crowd" as the "most extreme political organization that's existed in American history, in recent American history."

Meanwhile, prominent Democrats both in and out of Congress launched a campaign to disqualify Republicans who supported efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election frm running for public office.

And former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said earlier this year that law enforcement should monitor "mass radicalization on the right" after the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, arguing "mainstream" conservatives, not just "extremists," present a threat.

In Congress, House Democrats' Jan. 6 committee — comprised of seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans handpicked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi — voted unanimously last week to subpoena Trump at the conclusion of what's expected to be the panel's last public hearing.

The committee has argued over the last few months that Trump was the central figure in an orchestrated plot to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and incite an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The committee is reportedly preparing to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation into the Capitol breach.

Renowned civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz recently told Just the News that Trump critics both in and out of government are "stretching the law" in order to "get" the former president and see him criminally charged.

The government's probe has expanded far beyond its original focus on the Capitol breach to target those who questioned the 2020 election. Last month, the Justice Department subpoenaed several Trump associates, seeking information about both Jan. 6 and the 2020 election.

The Justice Department has also arrested nearly 900 people for charges related to Jan. 6, imprisoning most without a trial. Several have said the FBI, Justice Department, and federal prison officials under the Biden administration violated their civil and constitutional rights. The vast majority weren't accused of carrying a weapon, assaulting law enforcement, or destroying property. Many didn't even enter the Capitol building.  

The investigation is one of numerous ongoing efforts to prosecute political opponents of the Biden administration.

Just the News has previously reported on growing outcry among legal experts and civil libertarians over what they described as the Justice Department's strong-arm tactics targeting Trump allies and critics of the Biden administration.

Polling in recent months has indicated voters, including a majority of independents, believe the Biden administration has crossed a line in pursuing political opponents.

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