Over the course of months, the political world debated a Republican “audit” of the votes in Arizona’s most populous county. While this was widely understood as a fraudulent effort to find new “evidence” that Donald Trump didn’t lose the state, what passed underappreciated was its deeper purpose: to fuel doubts about Joe Biden’s victory simply by virtue of its mere existence.

In other words, the very fact that an “audit” was being undertaken at all was itself supposed to feed suspicions that the election had been stolen from Trump, never mind its eventual “findings.”

Now a new Monmouth University poll demonstrates that the fake audit had precisely this effect: The poll finds that a total of 62 percent of Republican respondents believe either that it did find significant reason to doubt Biden’s victory there (32 percent) or that it probably found this (30 percent).

That’s in sharp contrast to overall Americans. Among them, 57 percent say the sham audit definitely or probably found that Biden did win the state. Among independents, that’s 55 percent.

You may recall that the organizers of this “audit” announced in September that their work found that Biden did beat Trump in Maricopa County, after all. Yet this somehow persuaded a solid majority of Republicans to believe — or say they believe — that it cast more doubt on Biden’s victory.

How can this be? Easy: That’s exactly what it was designed to do.

When news organizations reported on that “finding,” they blew the story badly. They widely declared in headlines that the “audit” had “confirmed” Biden’s victory, implying that it was an effort to empirically verify the outcome, to reassure people who “believed” the outcome might be in doubt.

In fact, it was the opposite: an effort to further undermine the legitimacy of the Democratic victory. This is not changed by the fact that it failed to find a way to declare outright that Biden lost the state: Indeed, the very same announcement of its “findings” also declared that it had found serious fraud, just not enough to change the result.

Experts immediately dissected its methodology and found that this claim, too, was nonsense. But the damage was done: Far from reassuring doubters, it only provided further grounds for them to keep claiming the outcome was dubious: Okay, it didn’t find conclusive proof of enough electoral fraud to demonstrate that Trump actually won, but it did find serious fraud, and maybe it would have found that silver bullet if the coverup weren’t successful.

It’s no accident that this same poll finds that 54 percent of Republicans say the anger over the election that sparked the Jan. 6 riot was either fully or partially justified (even as enormous majorities of independents and Americans overall say the contrary).

The whole point of these sham audits — and other efforts to delegitimize the 2020 outcome, which continue today — is to keep Republican voters enraged and energized, and worse, to possibly lay the justificatory foundation for overturning future election losses by whatever means are necessary and available.

It’s strange that this continues even as Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin has shown that a Republican can assemble an electoral majority even in a blue-trending state, precisely by muting the Trumpist appeals (while continuing to make them in subtler forms).

But that aside, the fact that such tactics continue persuading Republicans to declare the 2020 outcome fraudulent — or worse, that they want to act persuaded of this, whatever they truly believe — has to be seen as very unsettling.