There’s a tendency in politics – built over many years – of viewing elections as end points. As in, we spend two years debating and squabbling over the right direction for the country and then voters get to have the final say. Once that happens, we head in the direction the voters choose – for at least the next two years.
There’s reason to believe that idea is no longer operative in American democracy.
Consider these numbers from a new Axios/Ipsos national poll.
The survey asked respondents if their party did not win control of Congress in November, how likely would that outcome be due to election fraud? Four in 10 Republicans (39%) and one in four Democrats (25%) said election fraud would likely be why. By comparison, 36% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats said it would be unlikely that election fraud would a reason why their party lost in the midterms. And 26% of Republicans and 15% of Democrats said they weren’t sure.
Now, think about that for a minute. This poll was conducted more than one month before Election Day. There can’t be any evidence of any sort of election fraud because the election hasn’t fully happened yet. (Yes, I know early voting has started in a several states, but you get my point.)
Which means that some people – particularly Republicans – are pre-emptively saying that election fraud, even though there is zero proof of any sort of election fraud, could be an explanation for an outcome they don’t like.
This should scare you – regardless of which party you support or if you don’t support either party.
Because what those numbers suggest is that the 2022 election won’t be seen as a decision point by a sizable group of Americans. There won’t be the usual notion that America engaged in a battle of ideas, one side won and the other lost, we now need to make our peace with it and go back to the work of governing the country for the next two years.
If you think you lost because you were cheated out of winning, then there is no incentive for you to shake hands with the winners and find ways to work together to govern the country over the next two years. Instead, you are incentivized to declare the other party nasty cheaters who won only through chicanery – and, therefore, you not only can’t, but shouldn’t, acknowledge their victory. To do so is to normalize bad behavior!
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out how we got here. Donald Trump has made baseless claims of voter fraud going back to when he lost the Iowa caucuses in 2016 to Ted Cruz and never stopped.
Given the level of potential skepticism about the 2022 results – before the election even happens! – the right way to think about the midterms is as a sort of 2024 way station. No matter what happens – including if there are clear winners and losers nationally – there will be a significant chunk of voters who simply refuse to accept the results because they don’t align with how they wanted the election to turn out. And then they will turn to the coming presidential election as the final fight on which their complaints will finally be heard.
Of course, if you think this same group will accept the results of the 2024 election – particularly if Trump is the Republican presidential nominee – well then, you haven’t been paying much attention.