Political News

Cries of fraud and suppression haven't impacted faith in the electoral system

Posted November 17, 2018 8:38 a.m. EST

— First things first: The theme song of the week is the HBO Main Theme from 1983 by Ferdinand Jay Smith.

Poll of the week: A new Pew Research Center poll finds that 70% of Americans are at least somewhat confident that votes in the United States were counted as intended in the 2018 elections.

Interestingly, there was no partisan split in this belief. Among both Democrats and Republicans (including those independents who lean toward one party), 70% are at least somewhat confident.

What's the point? The aftermath of the 2018 elections has been tumultuous. Democrats have leveled charges (some potentially more valid than others) of voter suppression. Republicans have, in turn, have lobbied charges of voter fraud (with no proof so far).

You might expect such accusations would hurt Americans' faith in the electoral system. Overall, it doesn't really seem that way.

Before the 2016 election, CBS News and Gallup asked similar questions to Pew about whether people were confident that the votes would be counted properly.

An average of those 2016 polls found that 70% of Americans had at least some confidence that votes would be counted properly -- that's identical to the percentage Pew found after the 2018 midterm.

The lack of movement is perhaps surprising because of the heated rhetoric in 2018.

Remember, though, that President Donald Trump wouldn't say whether he'd accept the results of the 2016 election. Even after he was declared the winner of that race, he still said that voter fraud had occurred. (He couldn't come close to proving it.)

Trump wasn't the first to call into question our system's legitimacy in a large-scale way. Back in 2005, Democrats forced the House and Senate into an hours-long debate before ratifying George W. Bush's reelection. They did so to discuss voting "irregularities" in the pivotal state of Ohio. (There's no proof that Bush wasn't the legitimate winner of the 2004 election.)

The repetitious discussions of fraud, irregularities and suppression may be why there's not been a lot of movement on questions relating to Americans' confidence in our elections over the last 14 years. That is, Americans have heard it all before. Generally speaking, between about 70% and 75% of Americans have had at least some confidence that the votes will be counted fairly since 2004.

Interestingly, there does seem to be some movement in how confident members of each party are. More Republicans are at least somewhat confident in the vote counting now (70%) than they were before the 2016 election (around 60%). Meanwhile, fewer Democrats are now (70%) compared to before the 2016 election (around 85%).

That, however, seems mostly tied to whether or not each side each side controls the presidency and whether they are going to be happy with the results of the election. When a party controls the presidency, their voters are more likely to have faith that votes will be counted fairly. Likewise, when one party is expected to win, their voters are more likely to be confident in the electoral system.

Back before the 2004 election, for example (when it looked like Bush was going to be re-elected), Gallup found that Republicans were far more confident (87%) than Democrats (59%) that the votes would be counted fairly.

Before the 2008 election (when Democrats were favored but Republicans controlled the presidency), Democrats were slightly more confident that votes would be counted fairly before winning the 2008 election (60%) than Republicans (56%).

Over the last few months, we've seen Republicans lose a little bit of faith. In a Pew poll taken in September and October, before Democrats were swept to power in the House, 77% of Republicans were at least somewhat confident in the vote count compared to 69% of Democrats. The Republicans' percentage has dropped 7 points since the election, while the Democrats' percentage rose a point.

Nothing, of course, has really changed in the last month, except the results of the election. Democrats won, but Trump is still President, which helps to explain why Democrats and Republicans have equal faith in the vote counting.

Sudden movement in the confidence in our vote counting, like Republicans have had this year, can only really lead one to a single conclusion: most (not all) of the time people charge that there's been "voting irregularities" it has more to do with the voting outcome than the voting mechanisms.