The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Donald Trump says the election will be ‘rigged.’ Half of his supporters seem inclined to agree.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that half of Donald Trump’s supporters are “not confident” that the “votes for president across the country will be accurately counted this year”:

Does this have anything to do with the fact that Trump has repeatedly said the election will be “rigged”? It’s hard to say for sure, but it probably helped. As Emily Guskin and Scott Clement point out, in the 2004 election, Democratic voters (specifically, 44 percent of John Kerry voters) were the ones who worried that the votes wouldn’t be counted accurately, perhaps because of bad feelings lingering from the contested 2000 outcome. Now, an even larger chunk — 49 percent — of Trump voters are saying this.

This perhaps isn’t that surprising. As presidential historians told this blog, there may be no historical precedent for a major party nominee explicitly and repeatedly claiming in advance that the outcome of the election will be suspect. What’s more, Trump voters appear inclined to believe in general that our elections are suspect. The new Post poll also finds that 69 percent of Trump voters think “voter fraud” happens very or somewhat often, versus only 46 percent of Americans who believe that (of course, that’s depressingly high, too, given that it, you know, doesn’t.)

For some reason, Trump voters appear susceptible to believing exaggerated conspiratorial claims about the ways in which the system is rigged against them. Claims of voter fraud in particular sometimes have a heavy racial component to them — and other polling has shown that Trump voters are also prone to believing that whites are losing out in this country due to preferences given to African Americans and Latinos.

Of course, now that Trump is doing far better and may have a shot at winning, we haven’t heard him claim lately that the election will be rigged. (Maybe the next person who gets to interview him — or maybe even an enterprising debate moderator — might consider asking him if he still believes that.) That said, if it does begin to look more certain that Hillary Clinton is going to win, Trump will almost certainly pick up making the “rigged” claim where he left off.

As noted above, Democratic voters have had doubts about electoral outcomes in the past. But this time, things may be very different. Trump has telegraphed clearly that, should he lose the election, he intends to go all out in casting doubt on the legitimacy of a Clinton presidency, not just through claims that the electoral outcome was illegitimate, but also through continued public assaults on her supposed crookedness. (That’s what the rousing chants of “lock her up” at the GOP convention were really about.) If Trump is still planning to set up a media empire after a loss, such claims might provide plenty of fodder for his new media audience about how they were cheated out of basking in the glory of a Trump presidency by a corrupt new president whose illegitimacy is being covered up by the corrupt mainstream media (and naturally, only Trump’s media outlet is courageous enough to tell the unvarnished truth about what really happened).

If so, our new polling suggests that Trump would probably have a massive audience of supporters out there who would be inclined to believe him.