There's plenty to chew on in the new national poll from Monmouth University, but I've been keeping a close eye in recent months on data regarding the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidency. At first blush, the latest results suggest there's been slight progress with a decreasing number of Republican voters rejecting the Democrat's 2020 victory.
But a closer look suggests the progress is a mirage.
One-third (32%) of Americans continue to believe that Joe Biden's victory in 2020 was due to voter fraud – a number that has not budged since the November election. At first glance in the crosstabs, it looks like the number of "Republicans" who believe this has been trending down while the number of independents who agree has ticked up. However, this appears to be a product of a shift in how Republicans identify themselves, with some moving their self-affiliation from being partisan to being an "independent" who leans partisan.
In other words, looking at self-identified Republicans in isolation offers an incomplete picture, since a growing number of GOP voters have begun describing themselves as "independents" -- in effect become closet partisans.
When we combine self-identified Republican voters and "independents" who vote with the GOP, the improved acceptance of reality largely disappears. Consider the trajectory:
- In November, 66% of Republicans and Republican-leaners said Biden did not win fair and square.
- In January, the number was 69%.
- In March, it was 64%.
- In June, it was 63%.
Given the margin of error, this is actually evidence of stubborn consistency. It's also roughly in line with a CNN poll from last month, which found 70% of Republicans rejecting the legitimacy of Biden's presidency.
Following up on our earlier coverage, my hope for months has been that reality would set in gradually over time. In fact, it seemed plausible to think that some of the early polling on this -- during the presidential transition period, for example -- was driven by more of an emotional reaction than a meaningful assessment of the facts. Many GOP voters were led to believe that Trump would win, so perhaps their rejection of Biden's legitimate victory was little more than reflexive anger.
In the same vain, as the nation's focus shifted to post-inaugural governance, it seemed possible, if not likely, that voters would accept reality in greater numbers as post-election drama faded from view.
Except, that's not happening -- at least not much -- in part because the post-election drama hasn't faded from view. Donald Trump continues to regularly claim that the results of the election are illegitimate, and many of his allies continue to do the same thing.
The New Yorker's Susan Glasser recently noted in response to similar polling, "This is a big red flashing light of trouble for American democracy." I continue to think that's true in part because of the challenges associated with a major political party living in a weird fantasyland, but also because of the degree to which the GOP's alternate reality can be weaponized.
As regular readers know, the utterly bonkers Arizona "audit" is both ongoing and spreading to other states -- a problem made possible by such widespread embrace of obvious nonsense.