Americans Are Afraid. Not for Themselves, but for the Country.

A feeling of alarm and fear about the future of democracy, from voters across the political spectrum.

By Emily Badger

There is much to fear this year, as campaign speeches and ads remind voters. The virus is surging, hospitals are filling again, and children are falling behind in school. Renters risk eviction, and businesses remain boarded up. Violent crime has risen and could reach your neighborhood, the president warns. And in this unsettling time, you could lose your health care, your job, your property values, or your local police department.

But when asked what really worries them on the eve of this election, most voters don’t cite their own finances, job prospects or personal safety. According to a national survey conducted by The Upshot and Siena College, they aren’t so much fretting about themselves as they are anxious about the country.

They fear the next generation in America will be worse off. Even some voters who say they are personally better off than four years ago say the country as a whole is worse off. And by wide margins, voters on the left and right say they’re concerned about the stability of American democracy.

These findings reflect longstanding research about the politics of fear: Broad anxieties about society tend to influence voters, and how they view government, much more than personal worries do. Even with that truism, voters in the poll described in follow-up interviews a level of alarm about the country — and American democracy in particular — that they say is new to them.

“I’ve never felt this way about our country,” said Jerry Thatcher, a 76-year-old Trump voter in Yamhill, Ore. He doesn’t recognize the country that he says broke out in riots this year, or the politicians he believes did little about it. And he’s still haunted by the policy promises of Democrats in the primary. “It’s just not the country I fought for anymore,” he said. “They’re trying to change it over to socialism. And I’m just worried that they might get it done.”

Diane Haller, a 50-year-old Biden supporter in Avon, Ohio, says President Trump has threatened the country’s foundations by bending the Department of Justice to his personal ends. “How is a democracy going to work if that’s allowed?” she said. “We’re just teetering, and it’s scary as all get-out.”

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