As the United States plunges toward the 2024 presidential vote, it is clear that millions of citizens no longer trust an essential element of American democracy: elections.

Electoral trust has been gradually declining in the U.S. for over two decades, according to polls. The slump’s roots go as far back as Democratic anger over the Supreme Court essentially deciding the 2000 vote for George W. Bush. More recently it has been accelerated by Republican voters’ acceptance of former President Donald Trump’s false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen and parts of the nation’s electoral process are rife with fraud.

Today, sustained attacks by Mr. Trump have helped turn electoral trust into one of the most polarized issues in America’s polarized politics. Only 22% of Republicans have high confidence that votes will be counted accurately in 2024, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll from last year, compared with 71% of Democrats.

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Doubts about election integrity vary by party. But in general, they’ve been growing in recent years, raising concerns about the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. democracy.

Overall, only 44% of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence the vote count will be accurate in 2024, according to the AP survey.

Whatever the cause, such low levels of trust threaten to erode the U.S. democratic system, experts say. Citizens who don’t think votes are counted accurately are less likely to vote at all. They have less confidence in their leaders and can be more prone to violence – such as the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The danger that I see to American democracy is if one side consistently mistrusts elections. That’ll threaten this concept of loser’s consent, where the side that loses agrees to go along with the outcome and try again next time,” says Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

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