It was discouraging earlier this year when polls showed many Republican voters embracing the Big Lie and questioning the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidency. The fact that this problem persists — and by some measures, is getting worse — underscores a more serious problem.
A new national CNN poll, released yesterday, asked respondents whether President Joe Biden legitimately defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 election. For most Americans the answer is obvious; for most Republican voters, it is not.
Among Republicans, 78 percent say that Biden did not win and 54 percent believe there is solid evidence of that, despite the fact that no such evidence exists. That view is also deeply connected to support for Trump.
At face value, it's astonishing that nearly four in five GOP voters believe the president did not win the election, reality be damned. But just as notable is the fact that CNN asked the same question in an April poll and found 70 percent of Republicans did not see Biden as the legitimate winner of the election. Now, that percentage is up to 78.
In other words, since the spring, GOP voters have become even more hostile toward their own country's electoral reality.
To be sure, 78 percent is an unusually high number — the highest I've seen in major independent polling — but there have been a variety of surveys in recent months pointing in the same direction.
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 rejection of Biden's legitimate victory was little more than reflexive 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.
Except, that's not happening — in part because the post-election drama hasn't faded from view. Trump lies with great regularity about his defeat, and much of his party plays along, either because GOP officials believe the nonsense or because they're afraid of what will happen to them if they tell the truth. Absurd election "audits" are still ongoing — and in some states, just getting started.
Rank-and-file Republican voters, meanwhile, don't know they're being deceived, and the result is widespread confusion about reality.
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.
If the CNN polling is correct and the problem is actually getting worse nearly a year after the election, that's a problem for the entire political system.