Many Republicans don’t trust the election process: Will a red wave change that?

Many Republicans who vote Tuesday, polls suggest, will participate in an election whose results they do not entirely trust, especially if their party loses.

Partisan doubt in the nation’s electoral system has seldom run higher. Polls consistently show a solid majority of Republicans lack faith in the vote count, a trend fueled by former President Trump’s relentless attacks on the integrity of American elections when the 2020 campaign turned against him. 

A Republican rout in today’s midterms may restore the party’s faith in fair elections, given historical trends. But recent history has never delivered so many candidates, from the presidential ticket on down, who refused to accept defeat. 

“Two-thirds of Republicans think the last election was stolen,” said Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “And if they think the last election was stolen, how could they not have less faith in the electoral system?” 

Republican faith in fair elections was all but unanimous during the George W. Bush presidency, according to Gallup, whose pollsters track electoral confidence over time. Ninety-two percent of Republicans believed their votes would be counted in 2006, a high-water mark in electoral trust from either party since Gallup began polling on the issue.  

GOP electoral confidence plummeted in 2008 as the presidency passed to Barack Obama and the Democrats. It sank further in 2016, when Trump, lagging in the polls, theorized the election system might be rigged against him. Republican confidence rose anew when Trump won, only to plummet again when he failed to secure a second term. 

Electoral paranoia is hardly the exclusive province of Republicans. Throughout the early 2000s, Democrats outpaced Republicans in their mistrust of elections, fueled by the widespread belief that President George W. Bush had won election in 2000 on a technicality and that partisan chicanery in Ohio had availed him in 2004.  

No one proved massive voter fraud in the 2000 or 2004 elections, just as exhaustive investigation unearthed no evidence of foul play in 2020.  

And yet, after the 2000 election, only 15 percent of Democrats felt Bush had won the contest “fair and square.” A protracted recount in Florida stretched Election Day into weeks, with the Supreme Court finally deciding the winner.  

“One of the things we woke up to after Florida is that we don’t actually run a national election,” said Alex Vogel, a Republican strategist. “We run a whole lot of local elections that lead to a national result.” 

Partisan claims of rigged elections in swing states stretch back at least to the 1960 contest between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Many observers believed then, and some contend now, that corrupt Democrats in Texas and Illinois gifted the election to Kennedy. 

What sets Trump apart from Nixon, and from the Democrats who lost close elections in 2000 and 2004, is that Trump went public with his claims. Al Gore and John Kerry, the losing candidates in those contests, ultimately conceded defeat and pledged support to the victor. 

“Political leaders didn’t used to give so much fuel to these things,” Hetherington said. “Richard Nixon had a legitimate reason to be worried about fraudulent ballots in places like Chicago. And Richard Nixon didn’t go there. And I think it’s remarkable that Donald Trump has gone there.” 

Scores of Republican candidates across the nation have followed Trump’s lead, denying his defeat at the polls and, in some cases, vowing to fight the results of any future election that goes against them.  

“They’re creating this sort of ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ thing,” Hetherington said. 

An analysis by the political website FiveThirtyEight found “election deniers” on the ballots in nearly every state in today’s contests. Several of those candidates are running for secretary of state, potentially putting conspiracy theorists in charge of counting future votes.  

Three-fifths of Republicans still believe President Biden did not actually win in 2020, according to a fall poll from Monmouth University. Recent polls by Gallup, Politico, USA Today, YouGov and the Brennan Center for Justice all found a majority of Republicans convinced Tuesday’s elections might not be fair. 

Other polls have found that most Republicans are open to candidates who reject the results of the 2020 election.  

Democrats, by contrast, are nearly as confident in the vote count now as Republicans were in the Bush era.  

On the subject of electoral integrity, Republicans and Democrats worry about different things. During the Bush administration, when many Democrats feared rigged elections, “I think their biggest worry was voter suppression, and the idea that Republicans were not allowing enough people to vote, making it more difficult for people to vote, not having enough polling stations,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist.  

In recent elections, Democratic protests have centered on long lines at the polls in heavily Democratic urban precincts. Democrats accuse Republican lawmakers of enshrining voter suppression into law — a technique favored by some racist Southern Democrats in the Kennedy era and widely employed in the South during the preceding decades of Jim Crow. 

Republicans have attacked Democrats over balloting by mail, an option embraced by Democrats in 2020 to minimize human contact amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That fall, roughly 70 percent of voters cast ballots before Election Day.  

“People were allowed to do a lot of things they hadn’t been allowed to do before,” Feehery said. 

That effort seeded mistrust among Republicans, who pushed legislation to curb potential voter fraud in mailed ballots. Approaching the midterms, the Republican National Committee characterized the 2020 contest as an anomaly, while party leaders encouraged Republicans to vote in person.  

Democrats continue to support voting by mail. Republicans have countered by challenging mailed ballots in swing states, a technique Democrats decry as voter suppression. 

But Democrats aren’t alone in voting early. The latest reports show more than 42 million Americans have voted ahead of Election Day this fall, by mail or in person. Only 43 percent of those ballots came from Democrats.  

Both Democrats and Republicans voted in record numbers in 2020, despite Republican misgivings about the ballots they cast. That fact, coupled with robust early voting numbers this fall, suggests Republicans have not given up on the system. 

“They’re participating with their feet,” said Chris Henick, a Republican strategist. 

Henick suspects electoral integrity is not a big enough issue to stop most Republicans from going to the polls. They may worry about ballot fraud, he said, but they worry more about inflation, interest rates and the direction of the country. 

“To me, the real crisis on either side,” Republican or Democrat, “would be if voter engagement, voter participation starts to drop,” Vogel said.  

If history is a guide, election observers say, then a Republican wave today will restore some lost trust in the balloting system among Republicans.  

Yet, several factors could shake both parties’ faith. Chief among them: a long, drawn-out vote count. And with candidates polling neck and neck in several high-stakes contests today, that is exactly what both parties fear. 

“My prayer on the morning of Election Day is, let it not be close,” Vogel said. 

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post