One study involved a randomized experiment where researchers showed different ad messages to voters who searched Google for information on voter registration. One set of ads that accompanied search results highlighted how easy and free registration was, providing a link to register. An alternate set of messages emphasized how “the system is rigged” and how voters’ choices didn’t matter. Those who saw the latter messages were less likely to click the ad’s link to register to vote. While this is just one limited experiment, it suggests that an ominous message about an unfair election can turn off prospective voters.
Studies on foreign elections also suggest that voters are less likely to turn out if they distrust the integrity of the political system. One experiment in Mexico found that informing voters about the governing party’s corruption lowered their propensity to vote. Another study analyzed turnout across a range of countries and found that heightened voter perceptions of political corruption did indeed lower turnout, but only in relatively lower-corruption countries like the United States and in Western Europe.
Polling data also suggests that a demoralizing message like the one Trump is spreading can backfire. Morning Consult conducted a recent poll about voters’ confidence that vote counting would be accurate. The survey generally quizzed voters about whether they thought their own vote would be faithfully counted and whether votes across the country would be accurately tabulated.
What Morning Consult found was that Trump appeared to be causing Democrats to increasingly believe that their votes would be counted correctly. By making accurate election-counting a polarized partisan issue, Trump had simply told Republican voters the same falsehood their party leaders had been telling them for years about nonexistent voter fraud, but he’d also energized Democrats to rally around the integrity of the electoral system. If this finding is accurate, Democrats could be even more likely to vote if they increasingly believe their vote will count, while the opposite could be true for Republicans.
Another recent ABC poll similarly found dampened enthusiasm among Republican voters. While ABC’s polls from previous months showed that Trump voters were more energized about voting, that finding has flipped around to favor Clinton supporters in a recent October survey. At the same time, many more Clinton voters also expressed a feeling that their vote was not just one in opposition to Trump but also a positive one for Clinton, while most Trump backers claimed their vote was mainly to oppose Clinton. This disparity could make it even more difficult for Republicans to motivate their voters if they despise both candidates.
Although none of this evidence can offer definitive proof, it does suggest that Trump’s rhetoric could indeed be backfiring. And if Republican turnout falls because GOP voters lose faith in the integrity of the results, that could cause Trump to lose by an even wider margin than the polls predict. If that comes to pass, Republicans would likely lose their Senate majority, and their gerrymandered grip on the House could also be seriously endangered. In other words, Trump’s need to prematurely make excuses for his own loss could help seal the defeat of his entire party. Nothing could be more fitting.
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