It’s obviously pretty crucial to a healthy, functioning democracy for voters to believe in the legitimacy of election results, even when – perhaps especially when – their favorite candidate lost.
Before Donald Trump, this was seldom an issue.
Skeptics, I suppose, might point to the aftermath of the Bush vs. Gore election of 2000, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. But that was all about the outcome in Florida, which was decided by less than one-half of one percent of the vote. And, despite plenty of room for grumbling by Team Gore, once the Supremes decided by just 5-4 in favor of Bush, Gore (who had won the national popular vote by more than half a million votes) accepted the result, and so did almost all of his disappointed supporters.
But Trump, who lost both the popular and electoral votes by significant margins in 2020, has never acknowledged that he lost. And, very likely as a result of Trump’s insistence that he was robbed in 2020, millions of his supporters continue to believe (or at least say) that Democrats stole the election and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s solid 2020 victory in both the popular and electoral vote.
According to a recent Pew survey, there is an interesting dichotomy within that large group of Republican election deniers. A large portion of them said that they did not rely on the news media for their news, but relied directly on Donald Trump.
Maybe it’s just because I’m a lifelong journalist, but that’s kinda creepy to me.
Pew asked a national sample of Republicans whether they accepted the result of the 2020 election and also asked them what source or sources they relied on for their news. It turns out that a large portion said they got their news directly from Trump himself.
Once you accept that rather strange proposition, you will be less surprised that those Republicans were about twice as likely to say that they still believe Trump won the 2020 election. Trump, as you know, continues to tell them that the election was stolen.
In one Pew survey, nearly a third of Republicans said they were getting their news directly from Trump. And so, not surprisingly (although still somewhat amazingly if you can make that work) 61% of those who said they got their information directly from Trump were also significantly more likely to say that “voter fraud is a major problem.” Only 36% of Republicans with a more traditional media diet said the same.
The research by Nicholas Clark and Rolfe Daus Peterson of Susquehanna University on which Pew based its piece also suggested that the more a Republican Trump supporter lives amid a largely Republican and Trump-supporting area, the more likely he or she is to take these extreme views, echoing Trump’s claims that he was robbed in 2020.
But one could also draw the opposite conclusion from this research: that election denialism is almost exclusively a Trump-driven phenomenon, not some deeply rooted cancer in the electorate. Maybe it will just fade away whenever he does.
A fuller New York Times piece discussing this topic is available here.