This is a problem for the GOP long-term and for Trump in the short-term.
Why is it a problem for Trump? Because there’s evidence that the more people are convinced that their political system is corrupt, the less likely they are to vote. Trump is out there every day telling his fans that the election is rigged, sometimes in terms of the media being in the tank for Hillary but in other cases in terms of actual cheating at the polls. I’d bet cash money that Kellyanne Conway has asked him privately to tone that down, not just because it’ll make it harder to put the party back together after the election but because she knows he’s inadvertently suppressing his own turnout. To have any chance at an upset, Trump needs working-class whites who typically don’t vote in elections — “undercover Trump voters” — to feel it’s worth their time to turn out next month. If instead they’re now convinced that the election’s rigged, guess what happens to turnout?
A 2012 study looked at this phenomenon:
Among Americans in the 2012 ANES survey who believe that votes are “very often” counted fairly, over three-quarters (77 percent) reported that they voted. By contrast, among those with strong doubts about this process, just two-thirds (64 percent) bothered to vote, generating a net 13-point gap.
When asked whether they thought that electoral officials were fair, similar patterns can be observed, where greater trust is significantly associated with higher voter turnout. None of the other claims about electoral malpractice was observed to have a similar effect on turnout, including problems of media bias, lack of genuine choice and campaign finance…
In September 2016, a Gallup poll found that only 6 in 10 Americans were very or fairly confident that their vote would be accurately cast and counted in the U.S. election, down from around three-quarters of all Americans a decade earlier. But among Republicans, the proportion who were confident dropped to around half, the lowest which the Gallup poll has ever recorded on this question when asked in a series of surveys. Other polls have found that Trump voters are especially likely to believe that voter fraud occurs often.
As noted, Republicans generally and Trump fans specifically are already inclined to believe that vote-rigging is going on, even before Trump started using his megaphone to hammer that point. Independents, who vote less regularly than strong partisans, are also unusually likely to see turnout drop if they’re convinced that the election isn’t fair, which is bad news for a candidate like Trump who’s targeting indies with his own independent, anti-establishment brand. Giving your target constituencies a good reason not to vote by crying “voter fraud” seems like a bad play for a guy who’s relying on enthusiasm from his base rather than traditional ground-game mechanisms to get people to the polls. And for the larger GOP, it’s a disaster in the making if perceptions that this election was stolen linger among the Republican base, as that might suppress turnout in 2018 and beyond. If “they” can steal the presidency from Trump, some will say, why bother participating in the system at all, even in a midterm cycle two years from now that looks primed for a Republican blowout? That’s a big reason why so many GOP apparatchiks, from establishmentarians like Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan to Trump recruits like Conway and Mike Pence, will be pushing back on the “rigged!” narrative next month. The party’s already alienated too many other voters to lose parts of its base as well to the suspicion that voting is meaningless.
Here’s Rush Limbaugh this afternoon wondering if there’ll be riots if Clinton gets 500 electoral votes. Or does he mean riots by the left if Trump gets 500 electoral votes? It’s hard to tell. Nothing to worry about either way, although I’m curious what he thinks will happen if Clinton gets 400. That’s highly unlikely too, but not quite completely off the board.