Almost 60% of Americans say they trust the outcome of elections, according to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. While this is worrisome – that means 40% don’t put much trust in elections – the numbers are even more concerning when broken down by party affiliation. Among Republicans, just one-third say they trust election results.
When asked the more specific question, “If your candidate for president does not win in 2024, do you trust that the results are accurate or not?”, only 33% of Republicans said they would trust in the outcome, whereas 82% of Democrats and 68% of Independents said they would.
The cause of this partisan division should come as no surprise. For decades, Republicans have cultivated a mistrust of government and their liberal Democratic opposition and have exaggerated the extent of voter fraud. They have persisted in this disinformation campaign despite numerous studies that have concluded that the extent of fraud perpetrated by both Republicans and Democrats has had a negligible impact on election results. Then, in 2016, campaign operative Roger Stone organized the first “Stop the Steal” campaign, initially to defend Donald Trump’s candidacy in the Republican primaries and then again in the general election against Democrat Hillary Clinton. Even after winning with a decisive 306 electoral votes (albeit only 46% of the popular vote), Trump claimed the election had been rigged against him. It all laid the groundwork for what was to come in the 2020 campaign.
Prior to Election Day 2020, Trump continued to make baseless accusations of fraud and asserted that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged. Soon after the election was called for Joe Biden, Trump and his allies resurrected the “Stop the Steal” slogan and repeatedly claimed Trump was the rightful winner of an election stolen by the Democratic Party.
The accusation was the extension of a long-term attack strategy in which Republican politicians and commentators employed highly inflammatory terms and ideas to denigrate their Democratic opponents – terms labeling them as anti-child, traitorous, and of course, election thieves. Already reviled and reduced to anti-American, amoral, and corrupt partisans in the eyes of the Republican base, it was clearly not too much of a leap for them to accept the false allegations being repeated by Trump, his supporters in Congress, and the right-wing media.