For years, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized a deeply weird conspiracy theory about public-opinion polls. As the Republican saw it, major news organizations and independent polling outlets secretly conspired to release fraudulent survey results as part of an elaborate voter-suppression scheme.
Republican voters, according to the conspiracy theory, would see the polls, learn how unpopular Trump was, and conclude that there was no point in voting. The coordinated conspiracy — which only Trump was aware of — apparently included the release of entirely made-up statistical tallies, with news outlets and polling firms simply picking numbers out of the air, without actually surveying anyone.
In reality, of course, the Republican's claims were stark raving mad. What was less obvious was the underlying irony: News organizations and pollsters haven't suppressed GOP votes, but what if Trump has?
It's no secret that many Republicans blame Trump for the party's failures earlier this year in Georgia's U.S. Senate special elections. The more the then-president lied about the integrity of the electoral system, the more GOP voters believed their ballots would go uncounted.
There's fresh evidence to suggest the problem persists. The New York Times reported yesterday:
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has supported exhaustive audits of the 2020 results to look for evidence of voting irregularities that repeated reviews have failed to produce. Still, she has told colleagues that she was surprised by a recent survey of Republican voters in her district, according to one person who spoke with her about it.
According to the Times' reporting, the right-wing congresswoman's survey found that 5 percent of local Republican voters planned to skip the 2022 elections unless Georgia conducted a "forensic audit." An additional 4 percent said that without an audit, they'd at least consider sitting out the election cycle. [Update: See below.]
Republican strategists reportedly found the results "alarming." Taylor Greene's congressional district is one of the reddest districts in the nation, and if nearly one-in-10 GOP voters in the area are prepared to effectively boycott upcoming elections, because of bizarre concerns over wildly unnecessary "audits," that's a problem for the party.
It's worth emphasizing that polls like these come with some caveats. After all, the survey tested a hypothetical on the horizon, asking voters about their willingness to cast a ballot more than a year from now. It's one thing for these Georgia Republicans to say they'll stay home unless they see the results of a "forensic audit"; it's something else for these voters to actually sit out the cycle next year, after being confronted with campaign ads designed to motivate them.
In other words, the poll results underscore an abstraction. The odds of nearly one-in-10 Republican voters in any part of Georgia skipping the 2022 cycle over pointless "audits" are low.
But they're not zero, either — and therein lies the point. Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and David Ossoff won by very small margins in January — Ossoff almost didn't make it to a special election — and the 2018 cycle in Georgia was awfully close, too.
It's likely the state's 2022 contests will also be highly competitive, which means Republicans can't afford for even a small percentage of GOP voters to stay home because of conspiracy theories that clearly don't make any sense.
On the surface, Trump's anti-election rhetoric is corrosive to our political system and chips away at the foundation of our democracy. But even if Republicans don't care about our political system or the health of our democracy, they ought to encourage him to stop lying simply to improve their chances of electoral success.
Update: The New York Times updated its report, publishing this online: "An earlier version of this article incorrectly described a survey conducted by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. The internal survey found that 4 percent of Republican voters in her district said they did not think elections were secure in Georgia and would not vote in future elections, and 6 percent said they were unsure whether their votes would be counted. It did not specifically ask about Georgia conducting an audit of the 2020 election."
Those details certainly matter, though they don't detract from the larger point: Roughly one-in-10 GOP voters in this ruby-red district are skeptical about future elections as a result of absurd conspiracy theories, suggesting it's in Republicans' interest to stop peddling absurd conspiracy theories.
Another Update: A Washington Post analysis has raised some additional concerns about the reliability of the poll referenced in the New York Times' article.