Election day is only a few days away and tens of millions of Americans have already voted, but whether they will accept the results is a real question. President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that the election was rigged, refused to commit to accepting the results, and predicted that it will end in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the punctuality of the U.S. postal service has declined sharply this summer, leading to widespread fears that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a megadonor of Trump’s, is attempting to deprive Americans who vote by mail of the right to vote.
To see how far the fear and mistrust goes, we interviewed 2,015 Americans between October 8 and 21. We asked this nationally representative group for their views on various types of fraud and other activities that would undermine our democracy. To see who believed in what threat, we asked respondents to indicate their party affiliation.
We asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement: “There is a conspiracy to prevent the U.S. Postal Service from handling postal votes. A total of 41 percent of Americans agreed and 31 percent disagreed. By party, 56 percent of Democrats agreed, while 31 percent of Republicans agreed.
We also asked respondents whether they agreed with the statement that “in terms of voting this year, the ability to mail ballots will increase the incidence of election fraud. Almost a majority of Americans – 47 percent – agreed with this statement. This includes 70 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats.
This indicates that Trump’s rhetoric has deeply affected his Republican base. Extensive research has shown that electoral fraud is extremely rare, and even before the pandemic all states allowed at least a portion of their electorate to vote by mail. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington all conduct elections by mail.
We also asked: “If your preferred candidate does not win the presidential election, how likely do you think it is electoral fraud? Forty-two percent of those surveyed thought it was reasonably or very likely, with 45 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats believing it. In this case, suspicion of the election outcome is a cross-party activity.
Finally, we asked respondents whether they agreed that if he lost the election, “Donald Trump would not voluntarily resign his office. Forty-nine percent agreed, including 72 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Republicans. Given Trump’s rhetoric of not appreciating the final election results, it is not shocking that this figure is so high. Yet no president has not resigned from office at the end of his term.
Much of this concern can be expected in a presidential election year. However, these figures are higher than in previous years, suggesting that the pandemic-related changes in voting, the austerity measures and service problems at the postal service, and the rhetoric of the president and other legislators have driven these fears to new heights. Whatever the outcome of the election, it is likely to be met with suspicion – especially if it takes days or weeks to determine it.
Joseph E. Uscinski is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami, College of Arts & Sciences. Casey Klofstad is Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami, College of Arts & Sciences.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors….