Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called polls that show him lagging behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton "rigged" because, he said, the polls sample too many Democrats. The sampling Trump referred to is considered standard methodology for political polling. (The Washington Post)

THE MORNING PLUM:

There’s a simple reason Donald Trump keeps claiming that rampant voter fraud ensures a rigged election whose outcome will be illegitimate, if he loses: Republican voters, and Trump supporters, are inclined to believe him.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a remarkable new poll this morning that confirms the point. It finds that a huge majority of Republican respondents say voter fraud is a bigger problem than restricted access to voting is. And there is a striking racial divide on this question as well — more on that in a moment.

The poll finds that among Americans overall, only 43 percent have a great deal of confidence that their votes will be counted accurately. That’s unfortunate, to be sure. Meanwhile, the partisan divide is notable: 55 percent of Democrats have a great deal of confidence in the vote counting, while 44 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Trump supporters feel the same way.

Here’s where it gets worse. Only 37 percent of Americans believe that “people casting votes who are not eligible to vote” is a bigger problem than “eligible voters being denied the right to vote,” which is seen as a bigger problem by 41 percent. But a huge majority of Republicans sees the former as the bigger problem:

Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Republicans believe voter fraud is a bigger problem than voter disenfranchisement, compared to only 19% of Democrats. More than six in ten (62%) Democrats say eligible voters being denied access is the bigger problem facing the election system.

The racial divide is also striking. According to numbers provided to me by PRRI, African Americans say that denial of access to eligible voting is the bigger problem by 66-21, while whites say that voter fraud is the bigger problem by 42-35. But as Ari Berman recently demonstrated, voter suppression is a far more extensive problem than is voter fraud, which is virtually nonexistent:

The real danger to American democracy stems from GOP efforts to make it harder to vote. New voting restrictions — like voter-ID laws, cuts to early voting and barriers to voter registration — that are in place in 14 states for the first time in 2016 will make it harder for millions of eligible voters to cast a ballot. And voters are lacking crucial protections because this is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full provisions of the Voting Rights Act…. It’s incredibly unlikely there will be widespread voter fraud on Election Day. But there will be eligible voters who show up to vote and are turned away from the polls. That’s the real threat to election integrity we should be focusing on.

Yet the public is closely divided on this question, and Republican voters overwhelmingly think voter fraud is the bigger problem.

This may be the result of the fact that the “voter fraud” canard is hardly a Trumpian innovation. Republican leaders have been hyping allegations of voter fraud for many years amid efforts to restrict voting. But now that Trump has taken that hype to truly insane lengths — by alleging a “rigged election” conspiracy against him that includes everything from election officials (in Republican states) to media companies to immigration officials allowing illegals in to vote — it has put Republicans in an awkward position. So they have responded by playing a little game in which they carefully distance themselves from the craziest aspects of Trump’s conspiracy-mongering, while simultaneously feeding other, relatively-less-crazy-sounding aspects of it.

For instance, Mike Pence — who is widely held up as a “reasonable” Republican in comparison to Trump — has been saying that the election is “rigged,” but only in the sense that the media, and not voting officials, are rigging it. Meanwhile, he continues to suggest that “voter fraud” is a real problem and that concerned citizens should monitor it, albeit “respectfully.” RNC chairman Reince Priebus has opted for a similar rhetorical trick.

As Brian Beutler writes, years of over-the-top GOP rhetoric — mostly concerning efforts to hype Barack Obama’s presidency into an existential threat to everything that makes this country recognizably American — have laid the groundwork for Trump to make arguments that are even more garishly divorced from reality than the more carefully coded and modulated GOP arguments have been. Voter fraud is a good example of this. Many Republican voters will be primed to believe that voter fraud was rampant on Election Day. The question is whether that will leave them even more susceptible to Trump’s claims that the outcome itself was “rigged” to its core, and thus entirely illegitimate — and whether that threatens further damage to the country’s civic health long after the election is behind us.

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* CLINTON LEADS IN ANOTHER NATIONAL POLL: The new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking poll finds Clinton leading Trump among likely voters nationally by 50-44 in the head-to-head match-up, and by 46-41 in the four-way race.

The various polling averages now have Clinton leading nationally by six points; 5.5 points (Real Clear Politics); six points (FiveThirtyEight); six points (The Upshot);  and over seven points (HuffPollster). That’s a lot of poll rigging!

* GOP VOTERS TRUST TRUMP. PAUL RYAN, NOT SO MUCH: Here’s another interesting nugget from the new NBC/Survey Monkey poll: 63 percent of GOP voters trust Trump more to lead the GOP, while only 34 percent of Republicans trust Ryan to do so. That should make it easier for the GOP to rebuild in the After Trump (AT) Era.

* CLINTON LEADS IN NORTH CAROLINA: A new Upshot/Siena poll finds Clinton leading among likely voters in North Carolina by 46-39 if you include minor candidates, and by 49-41 in the head-to-head.

Key findings: Clinton leads among college educated whites and even more so among voters in the suburbs. She leads by 61-36 among early voters, suggesting once again that Democrats are energized, despite Trump’s best efforts to depress their enthusiasm.

* TRUMP IS IN TROUBLE IN FLORIDA: Marc Caputo reports from Florida, the largest battleground state:

Trump has trailed Hillary Clinton in 10 of the 11 public polls conducted in October….Even private surveys conducted by Republican-leaning groups show Trump’s in trouble in Florida….Mail-in absentee ballot voting was once a Republican strength thanks to the party’s organization….But this year, Democrats are showing signs of catching up.

As Caputo notes, private polling that attempts to project what the electorate will actually look like shows Clinton winning. Watch those early voting numbers, too.

* DEMS POISED TO TAKE SENATE, FORECASTER SAYS: The Cook Political Report rates seven Senate races (Nevada, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Missouri, and Florida) as Toss-Ups, and concludes:

History shows that races in the Toss Up column never split down the middle; one party tends to win the lion’s share of them. Since 1998, no party has won less than 67 percent of the seats in Toss Up….As such, we are increasing the range of expected Democratic pick ups to five to seven seats. This means that we feel that the prospect that Democrats will have at least 51 seats is greater than the odds of a tied Senate, or of Republicans somehow holding their majority.

Six of the seven Toss-Ups are GOP-held Seats (Nevada is the exception). Dems already appear poised to win Wisconsin and Illinois, and would have to net two more from that seven to win the majority.

* DOWN-BALLOT REPUBLICANS CUT TRUMP LOOSE: Politico reports that down-ballot Republicans in races around the country are increasingly arguing that voters should keep Republicans in charge of Congress to act as a check on President Hillary Clinton:

Senior party strategists, some of whom have wanted to cut Trump loose for weeks, are signing on. They describe a perilous sink-or-swim political environment where Republicans need to fight for survival – even if it means writing off the presidential nominee.

Republicans are basically conceding that Trump’s a goner. And as I reported, Democrats will now respond that Republicans are explicitly promising more gridlock and obstruction.

* AND THE TWEET OF THE DAY, KEEP-HOPE-ALIVE EDITION: Yep, the Morning Joe gang today actually said this:

Gotta keep impressions of that horse race alive until the very last minute, apparently.