President Trump’s claims that voter fraud turned the 2020 election against him haven’t gained much traction with the courts or state canvassing boards, but he has found one receptive audience: Republican voters.
After multiple media organizations declared President-elect Joe Biden the winner, Republican confidence in the election results plummeted. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70% of Republicans doubted the election was free and fair, up significantly from 35% before Election Day. An Economist/YouGov poll similarly found that 73% of Republicans were skeptical about whether the election was conducted fairly. Monmouth University found that 61% of Republicans are not at all confident in the fairness or accuracy of the election, and 77% of Trump voters believed Biden’s win was due to fraud. Among all voters, 60% said Biden won fair and square, while 32% blamed fraud.
“The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen,” said Monmouth’s polling director Patrick Murray in a statement. On Thursday, the Trump campaign circulated a video, broadcast by the Trump-friendly One America News Network, purporting to show suitcases of ballots in Georgia being pulled from a suitcase and counted after a supervisor asked poll workers to leave the room. Twitter flagged it as potential disinformation. Georgia’s Republican secretary of state has denied voter fraud as the state has had to content with two recounts.
Trump has not conceded the presidential race and is still contesting the results in several battleground states, asserting again on Wednesday that he is confident he will be declared the winner once the evidence is reviewed. While Republican elected officials in some of these states have disputed many of Trump’s specific claims about the election, some of his allegations are rooted in GOP skepticism of mail-in voting, urban Democratic political machines, and the fairness of many COVID-19 regulations.
“The Democrats had this election rigged right from the beginning,” Trump claimed in a video from the White House. “They used the pandemic, sometimes referred to as the China virus, where it originated, as an excuse to mail out tens of millions of ballots, which ultimately led to a big part of the fraud, a fraud that the whole world is watching, and there is no one happier right now than China.”
Other Republicans, such as conservative attorney and former George W. Bush Justice Department official J. Christian Adams, have made more measured versions of this argument.
“What happened in 2020 is cultural and systemic, and sadly, generally legal,” Adams wrote, adding, “COVID led to a dismantling of state election integrity laws by everyone except the one body with the constitutional prerogative to change the rules of electing the president — the state legislatures.”
Some have pointed to problems with mail-in voting in New York, where an error led to thousands of flawed absentee ballots being sent out in New York City just months after local election officials struggled to process and count mail-in ballots in a spring primary election. That primary was frequently cited by Trump as an example of mail-in voting being a “disaster.”
Many Republicans are suspicious of states where Trump led on election night only to lose days later. In some cases, the vote counting stopped and Biden took the lead after the tabulations resumed. “In Wisconsin, as an example, where we were way up on election night, they ultimately had us miraculously losing by 20,000 votes,” Trump complained.
Trump has additionally raised questions about how he could lose an election where Republicans performed unexpectedly well down-ballot. Trump himself outperformed the polling averages. “It is statistically impossible that the person, me, that led the charge lost,” he said.
Adams blamed liberal groups’ get-out-the-vote efforts in large cities. “This also explains how the GOP was so successful everywhere … except at the top of the ticket,” he wrote. “A flood of blue votes gushing out of deep blue urban areas has a statewide effect only for statewide candidates. It doesn’t affect legislative races outside of the cities.” He also argued that explained how Trump improved his share of black and Hispanic voters and still lost.
Henry Olsen of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center looked at the numbers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. “All three states’ results indicate what was to blame for Trump’s defeat: suburban vote slippage,” he wrote. Other analysts argued Trump hurt himself by discouraging his supporters from voting by mail.
Trump supporters also point to affidavits signed under penalty of perjury gathered by the campaign’s legal team alleging specific examples of fraud or the exclusion of Republican poll watchers, contrasting this with claims Trump-Russia collusion swung the 2016 election. Stacey Abrams, a leading booster of the Democratic candidates in the Georgia Senate runoffs, claimed she lost the 2018 gubernatorial election there due to voter suppression. Her Republican opponent was secretary of state at the time.
Attorney General William Barr said this week that the Justice Department had not uncovered evidence of voter fraud sufficient to alter the outcome of the election, and Trump has found himself battling GOP elected officials who deny irregularities in their states. A Republican strategist in Arizona called the president’s actions “self-centered” and “egotistical.” Yet rank-and-file GOP voters keep telling pollsters they are sympathetic to Trump’s fight.