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Expand chart
Data: Fox News poll of 1,003 registered voters, Oct.6–8, 2019. Margin of error ±3 percentage points; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

If the 2020 presidential election is close enough to trigger a fight over the results, the public's confidence is so low in key people and institutions that no one is likely to be a trusted referee.

Why it matters: Given how tight the last few elections have been, the likelihood of a contested election is quite real — which means the danger of a fight over the results is real, too.

The big picture: This trust crisis — flagged for us as part of a larger presentation by lobbyist Bruce Mehlman — is based on polling that shows how little confidence the public has in powerful players and institutions, including the ones that would be most likely to be drawn into a contested election.

  • There's a trust chasm over President Trump, with Republicans showing far more confidence in him than Democrats and independents, according to an October Fox News poll.
  • But there's also low trust of the Supreme Court — especially among Democrats and independents — and trust in Congress is rock bottom with everybody.
  • And yes, the news media's trust level is abysmal too, especially with Republicans and independents.

If you break it down by Trump voters vs. people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — which could give us a rough idea of the breakdown between Trump and whoever runs against him in November — there are also wide gaps.

  • The Supreme Court wins a "great deal" of trust with 29% of Trump voters but just 19% of Clinton voters — and the news media wins 27% of Clinton voters but just 7% of Trump voters.

Other surveys have found more evidence of deep distrust in leaders and institutions. The Pew Research Center found a huge partisan divide in trust in politically appointed agency heads (self-described Republicans expressed more confidence in those leaders than Democrats).

  • It also found deep divides over career government employees (Democrats trusted them more than Republicans) and journalists (Democrats trusted them way more than Republicans).
  • The one area of agreement: Barely a third of all Americans across the board trusted elected officials.

What to watch: In this kind of general atmosphere of distrust — along with the aftermath of Trump's impeachment and the near-certainty that 2020 will be plagued with misinformation — it's easy to see how an election could end up in a drawn-out battle.

  • That could happen if Trump contests a narrow defeat or if Trump wins and the Democrats raise questions about voter suppression or other issues.
  • If either scenario happens, Americans' confidence in any of the possible referees would need to be solid for the country to reach a successful resolution — and right now, confidence is a lot less than solid.
  • One sign of concern about a close election: the Supreme Court says it will rule before the election on whether presidential electors have to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state, or whether they have the freedom to switch to someone else.

The bottom line: The crisis is still a long way off — but unless Trump or his opponent can achieve a decisive win, it's coming.

Go deeper:

Russia has already won the fight to undermine U.S. elections

Misinformation haunts 2020 primaries

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
7 mins ago - Economy & Business

How the tech stock selloff is hurting average Americans

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

Why it matters: Even though the economy is growing and many U.S. stocks are performing well, most investors are seeing their wealth decline because major indexes no longer reflect the overall economy or even a broad swath of public companies — they reflect the performance of a few of the country's biggest companies.

32 mins ago - World

UN rights chief: At least 54 killed, 1,700 detained since Myanmar coup

A Feb. 7 protest in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

Police and military officers in Myanmar have killed at least 54 people during anti-coup protests, while "arbitrarily" detaining over 1,700 people, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said Thursday.

Why it matters: Protesters have demonstrating across Myanmar for nearly a month, demanding the restoration of democracy after the country's military leaders overthrew its democratically elected government on Feb. 1.

2 hours ago - Health

The danger of a fourth wave

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Anomalous Arkansas case data from Feb. 28 was not included in the calculated change; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.