As 2021 got underway, a variety of independent polls shows many Republican voters embracing anti-election conspiracy theories, believing Donald Trump's Big Lie, and questioning the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidency. As 2021 comes to a close, it's discouraging to see the problem persist — and by some measures, intensify.
U.S. News reported yesterday:
A new University of Massachusetts Amherst poll released Tuesday highlights how partisanship has hardened in the year since the deadly Jan. 6 attack and the stark breakdown on how Democrats and Republicans view that day and the results of last November's presidential race.... Of Republicans polled, an overwhelming majority of them – 71% – still contest the 2020 election results.
The university's national survey found only about one in five Republicans accepts the legitimacy of Biden's victory.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, I initially hoped 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 initial rejection of Biden's victory was a combination of reflexive surprise and anger.
In the same vein, 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 — especially as recounts, audits, and independent reviews made it painfully obvious that the Republicans' anti-election conspiracy theories were baseless.
And yet, here we are.
If the results of the University of Massachusetts Amherst poll were wildly at odds with other recent public-opinion research, it'd be easier to dismiss the findings as an outlier. But the opposite is true: This data is entirely in line with what we've seen in other surveys.
A national CNN poll released in September, for example, found a similar number of GOP voters rejecting our electoral reality. Over the summer, the Associated Press and Monmouth also released separate poll results showing roughly two-thirds of Republicans coming to the same misguided conclusion.
Last month, a national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll produced similar findings, with 75 percent of Republican voters embracing Trump's Big Lie as if it were true. Rank-and-file GOP voters don't know they've been deceived, and the result is widespread confusion about reality.
Why should anyone care? In part because governing is already difficult, and the challenges become more acute when a major political party lives in a weird fantasyland. But also because of the degree to which the Trumpian party's alternate reality can be weaponized by those eager to suppress Americans' voting rights — and those willing to commit literal acts of violence.
Looking ahead, solutions are elusive. Republican voters have been told not to trust election results. Or election administrators. Or election lawyers. Or independent news organizations. Or political scientists. Or the courts. Rather, they've been told to trust easily discredited nonsense from a failed and corrupt former president, and conservative media outlets that profit from his propaganda.
It's a campaign against democracy, and its success undermines our entire system of government.