Last week Marjorie Taylor Greene released the results of a poll she conducted in her district showing that five percent of Republicans there won’t vote next year if the state doesn’t conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 election. At the same time, WaPo reported that some Trump allies were lobbying the RNC to embrace his “rigged election” message, believing that it would be good for turnout. Rationally, that doesn’t compute; a person who believes their state’s election system is corrupt has less of a reason to cast a ballot, fearing it won’t be counted. In fact, Democrats might owe their Senate majority to that phenomenon playing out in Georgia.
Emotionally, however, it’s not hard to understand how babbling about a stolen election might make people more enthusiastic to participate, not less. I’ll quote myself from the MTG post: “It may be illogical to try to get people excited to vote by convincing them that their votes might not count but an angry base is a motivated base. And the obvious outlet for that motivation is to vote.” Tell Republicans that they’ve been victimized by Democrats in a gigantic fraud and naturally they’ll want to avenge that supposed injustice. Even if it means, uh, participating once again in the system that allegedly defrauded them.
Today’s shocking new Morning Consult poll appears to bear that out. Although, looking at these results, we’re faced with a question: Do we have a correlation/causation problem here?
— Morning Consult (@MorningConsult) October 27, 2021
Republicans who doubt the integrity of U.S. elections are more amped to participate in those elections next year than members of the party who trust the election system. That makes no sense. But here we are.
How confident are we that Trump’s endless huffing about a rigged election is the thing that’s driving election skeptics’ enthusiasm to vote, though? I’d guess that a person who believes the 2020 election was stolen is also more likely than the average Republican to consume activist partisan media, including fringy media. A hardcore “stop the steal” adherent may be watching Newsmax and OANN or reading populist news sites all day where they’ll absorb some “rigged election” propaganda but also a ton of “Biden sucks” material. It may be the latter, not the former, that’s making them eager to vote. And so, despite their continuing doubts that their ballot will be counted fairly, they’ve resolved to turn out and at least try to break Democratic control of government. They’ll just have to hope and trust that the election will be run fairly this time. (A “fair” election is one where your side wins, of course.)
If I’m right then it’s the “Biden sucks” element of righty media that’s motivating election skeptics to vote, not the “stop the steal” element. Republicans who trust the election system are probably less likely to consume partisan media and therefore are getting less of the “Biden sucks” message, reducing their enthusiasm. If anything, Trump’s chronic complaints about 2020 having been stolen might be discouraging some MAGA voters who’d otherwise be gung ho to turn out. After all, just because enthusiasm among election skeptics is high doesn’t mean it couldn’t and wouldn’t be higher if Trump accepted his defeat. If you doubt that, look at the results of the 2010 and 2014 midterms, which lacked for “rigged election” messaging but didn’t lack for blockbuster Republican turnout.
Although turnout next year is likely to be blockbuster either way:
The Morning Consult polI offers some measure of relief for Republicans worried that voters won’t turn out amid talk of vast election conspiracies. A full 92 percent of self-identified Republican voters said that they planned to vote in the 2022 elections, with just 4 percent saying they did not plan to. By contrast, just 70 percent of self-identified Democrats said they planned to vote, and 29 percent said they did not plan to.
That’s an alarm bell for Democrats. Another alarm comes from the fact that a large number of voters, and not just Republicans, are okay with voting for a candidate who thinks the 2020 election should be investigated. Seventy-three percent of GOPers, 42 percent of indies, and even 29 percent of Dems say so, per Morning Consult. The McAuliffe strategy in Virginia is based on the belief that reminding voters incessantly of Trump and his bid to overturn the election will reignite the outrage Dems and independents felt at his “stop the steal” propaganda last year. They may be miscalculating.
Meanwhile, the possibility that “rigged election” chatter is paradoxically a good turnout motivator for Republicans will tempt even establishment GOP politicians to start flirting with that rhetoric on the trail for selfish electoral reasons. Mitch McConnell is probably too invested in his prior statements that Trump lost to reverse himself now but he is willing to endorse Trump-approved election-truther candidates:
The Washington Republican establishment is lining up behind @HerschelWalker. Here’s the biggest sign yet: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is backing the former football star’s bid. #gapol #gasen pic.twitter.com/hfU74d86G8
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) October 27, 2021
According to Morning Consult, 72 percent of Trump 2020 voters doubt that last year’s election was fair and 51 percent doubt next year’s election will be. They’ve been egged on relentlessly by Trump to believe that and soon other Republican pols will join in, hoping to leverage the enthusiasm dynamic captured in the poll above at the risk of further deepening suspicion. I’ll leave you with this recent segment from Vice about what happens when a steady stream of conspiracy theories promoted by national leaders trickles down to the least stable members of society. Someone’s eventually going to die because of this.