I don’t know how, when or why this goes away, and it’s hard to grasp the level of dysfunction it embeds in our little experiment in democratic/republican self-government, but …
… recent polls continue to show that more than two-thirds of Republicans believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Democrats.
Those who believe that are wrong, and cannot produce any credible evidence to back up their belief. Such “evidence” as exists has been in the courts and rejected, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided, by 6-3 (with three Republican appointees voting to take the case, and three not to) not to hear the case, allowing the official election result to stand.
That’s old news, but the latest polling, from SSRS for CNN in late April, indicates that – while a huge majority of Democrats, a solid two-thirds majority of independents, and a solid overall majority of Americans believes the Joe Biden’s election victory was legitimate — two-thirds of Republicans either believe or suspect that Trump’s victory was somehow stolen. (And by far the bulk of those, comprising 60% of all Republicans in the sample, took the harder line, saying there is “solid evidence” that the election was stolen from Trump.
(The poll results did not go into the nature of the solid evidence. The poll apparently asked a follow-up of those who said Biden’s victory was illegitimate, whether they considered that view more of a suspicion, or whether it was based on “solid evidence” that Biden’s victory was not legitimate.)
Based on that poll result, Washington Post columnist Philip Bump wrote last week:
“If you don’t deal with this every day, it’s hard to overstate how damaging this claim has been. Those of you who are not interstellar astronauts are obviously familiar with the events of Jan. 6, the riot at the U.S. Capitol that stemmed directly from Trump’s insistences and advocacy. But you may not be familiar with how far the tendrils of these claims about rampant voter fraud reach, wrapping themselves around scores of unfounded claims and a library’s worth of erroneous statistical claims, unsupported memes and misguided testimonials.”
There have been extremely close elections in the past. The Bush v. Gore (2000) case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s still quite possible to believe that the court got it wrong, but the Florida result was so close that it’s roughly impossible to know, and the country moved on. The 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes-Samuel Tilden election had to be decided by a special commission, and included a side deal that if the southern states would accept Hayes’ election, the federal troops, who were still stationed in the post-Civil War south, would be removed.
But this was not a particularly close election. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 51.3 to 46.9 percent in the national popular vote. And to believe in the “steal” theory, you have to believe that several states, including states where the elections were run by Republican officials, had been stolen for Biden.
The next paragraph, from the Phillip Bump column I cited above, explains that the belief that the election was stolen is based on …
“… a hydra of misinformation in which slicing off one false claim simply spurs Trump’s base to elevate a dozen more. The effort to combat this misinformation is almost necessarily insufficient in the face of a fervency that, for many people, is as essential to their belief system as the idea that he didn’t lose is essential to Trump’s self-esteem. For every article that The Washington Post writes making clear that a purported piece of evidence is untrue or incorrect, there’s an ocean of right-wing media outlets and personalities willing to tear it down or redirect people somewhere else.”
This is creepy. If this is the new normal (and I’m plenty worried that it might be), I fear for the future of the American experiment in democracy.