Despite reality, Republican voters believe bogus 'fraud' claims

Trump and much of the GOP have spent the post-election period telling their base that the nation's electoral system is corrupt. The efforts are working.
Image: President Donald Trump attends campaign event at Tucson International Airport
President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at Tucson International Airport in Arizona, on Oct. 19, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

The New York Times spoke to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) yesterday, and asked whether President-elect Joe Biden's victory might "cool the country's political temperatures," at least for a little while. The House GOP leader still isn't prepared to publicly acknowledge Donald Trump's defeat, but he was willing to speculate a bit about the near future.

"It depends how it turns out," McCarthy replied. "If you have 70% of Republicans who thought he cheated, he's still going to have a hard time."

The Times reminded the House Republican that Biden did not, of course, cheat, and the only reason 70% of Republicans might believe this is that the partisan fires are "being stoked every day." McCarthy then changed the subject.

Which was a shame because it's worth grappling with the real-world effects of the GOP's smear campaign against the United States' electoral system. Consider a national Monmouth poll released yesterday:

The Monmouth University Poll also finds a majority of Americans are confident that the election was conducted fairly, although most Trump voters think Biden's victory is due to voter fraud.... While 60% of Americans believe Biden won the election fair and square, 32% say he only won it due to voter fraud.

Looking through the survey's crosstabs, the specific wording of the question was, "Do you believe Joe Biden won this election fair and square, or do you believe that he only won it due to voter fraud?" Given everything we know about reality, the former should generate roughly 100% support.

But that's clearly not what the Monmouth poll found. Overall, 60% of the public agrees that Biden won "fair and square," which is itself ridiculously low. The tallies among more narrow constituencies were even more unsettling: 58% of conservatives, 70% of Republicans, and 77% of Trump voters said they believe Biden only won the election due to voter fraud.

Remember, as far as Kevin McCarthy is concerned, if 70% of Republicans believe Biden won by cheating, the incoming president is "going to have a hard time." Which helps explain, of course, why GOP officials and their allies are so eager to lie to the Republican base about what actually happened in the 2020 elections.

When Trump's post-election attack on his own country's democracy began in earnest, there was a school of thought that said his antics were full of sound and fury, but they signified nothing. The Washington Post quoted a senior Republican official saying 10 days ago, "What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change. He went golfing this weekend. It's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He's tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he'll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he'll leave."

But as we discussed soon after, it's not nearly that simple: Republican voters don't perceive this is meaningless theatrics. The GOP base doesn't see the wink and the nod from party leaders. When these far-right Americans hear their president and their party insist, over and over again, day after day, that Biden's victory is tainted by electoral crimes that never actually occurred, these Republicans start to assume the lies are true.

And that's reflected clearly in the latest polling data, which no one seems to consider unreliable.

To dismiss the consequences of this would be a mistake. By peddling nonsense about non-existent "fraud," Trump and his allies are delegitimizing an election, undermining public confidence in democracy, and taking steps to deliberately undermine a democratically elected president -- without cause -- who'll soon take office in a time of multiple crises.

As Michael Gerson put it in a recent column, "Through their active support or guilty silence, most elected Republicans are encouraging their fellow citizens to believe that America's democratic system is fundamentally corrupt. No agent of China or Russia could do a better job of sabotage. Republicans are fostering cynicism about the constitutional order on a massive scale."

And the evidence suggests their efforts are working as planned.