Ever since the election in 2020, one of the common themes throughout conservative media is the “fact” that the election was stolen, and Donald Trump is the rightful president of our country. Even after being struck down time and time again, the same claims continue. This idea that the election was stolen has seeded mistrust in the minds of many Americans, casting doubt on all future elections, and endangering the democratic process of electing officials as a whole.
In a poll done by CBS this summer, 33% of those polled, 69% of Republicans, and 74% of Trump voters believe that there was wide-spread election fraud in 2020. Of those people, 72% believe that most of the fraud came from cities, 39% percent believe that the source of the fraud is the black community, and 77% believe the source of the fraud is mail-in ballots. (See the full report from CBS)
This belief, along with many other snippets of false information has fueled a divide in our nation, leading to incidents like the insurrection and desecration of our nation’s capital on January 6th of this year. Even then Trump was making false claims, stating that no one that had looked into the election has said that Biden won the election legally, and at that point Republican’s had blatantly lost 61 of 62 election lawsuits largely by grounds of lack of standing or lack of merits to the allegations, heard before both democratic and republican judges.
The mistrust in elections created by these claims can be seen across the country, and especially here in Georgia. In an NPR interview with Bartow Country Board of Elections Director, Joseph Kirk, Kirk talks about the mistrust amongst his constituents following the baseless claims of election fraud: “A lot of my voters, a lot of my citizens, do not trust the voting system after November, after a lot of misinformation went out about this specific system… The paradox is that we have these tools that we’ve never had before so that we can have a fair count and be confident with the tabulation and the results,” he said. “But the public has the least amount of confidence.”
This building mistrust in elections is actually hurting republicans too. Some people are choosing not to vote with the belief that it won’t matter, or that it the system is broken and therefore the election is just for people to think they have a choice. This lack of turnout among republicans has paved the way for Democrats to win the seats in the midterm elections, and therefore take control of the Senate. You even saw Democrats weaponizing Trumps twitter activity against Republicans in the state, seeing billboards dawning a retweet from Trump stating “why bother voting for Republicans if what you get is Ducey and Kemp?”
A Blast from the Past
In an in an interview with Politico, David Blight, a legendary Yale historian whose studying the Civil War and Reconstruction Era won him a Pulitzer Prize, talks about the comparison between the state of politics following the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan X, and that of the election of 1860:
I’ve been asked many times in the past two weeks which other election, which other inauguration we can compare it to. And really the only one is 1861. Lincoln faced seven seceded states and the formal inauguration of Jefferson Davis [as president of the Confederacy]. So, you know, a pretty horrible situation.
Biden is inheriting something different, but comparable. We really have arrived at, it appears, two irreconcilable Americas with their own information systems, their own facts, their own story, their own narrative. And we — whatever “we” is — on the other side keep wondering: How can this be?
There are blaring similarities between the two cases. The losing sides unwillingness to accept a lost election is blaringly similar to the election of Lincoln, leading to a series of events we now know as the Civil war and Reconstruction. With events such as the attack on the capitol, it makes you contemplate exactly how far these people will go. The relentlessness that Biden is not our President after hundred of court cases have proven otherwise at this point put a great threat on our democracy, and also the faith and accepted validity of elections. In 1860, the events eventually led to succession, the Civil war, and then reconstruction. After a group of people storm one of the most sacred places to our democracy, it places fear in the minds of many Americans, wondering how far this will go before something catastrophic happens.
So, Why Do They Still Believe?
It is dumbfounding to me that people, to this day, still believe that Biden didn’t win the election fairly. But why? Even when they have been presented with multitudes of evidence to the contrary? Asheley Landrum, a media psychologist at Texas Tech University, studies conspiracy theories talks with KQED about what makes people susceptible to believe this conspiracy theory:
Although believing conspiracies is often talked about as a pathological behavior, anyone might believe one under the right circumstances. When people are exposed to information that seems to contradict their own beliefs or their values or their experiences — or maybe what they’ve been seeing consistently cultivated on their social media news feeds — they face what we call cognitive dissonance, which they need to resolve.
One way of doing that is to conspiracy theorize, which allows people to dismiss disagreeable information by questioning the credibility and the motivation of the expert communicators relaying that information. People will question the credibility of the press, politicians, doctors, for example. Because Trump supporters tend to assume the worst of Democrats, the press, and in some cases even other politicians they see as “deep state,” it seems very easy for them to believe those people would undermine the electoral process, that it’s a normative behavior.
This cognitive dissonance amongst Republicans makes them even more susceptible of the anger invoking norms of conservative media, and constant misinformation. A culture of hate, opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, against all people of color and the LGBTQ+ community fuel the people that could never accept that someone who supports these things is the leader of our country, and most likely the most powerful leader in the world. Only time will tell how far this will go, and how long people will keep up this facade of a stolen election.