Ever since President Trump launched his baseless voter fraud campaign, Republican strategists have fretted about it potentially hurting GOP turnout in the all-important Georgia Senate runoffs. If Republicans have no confidence that their votes will be counted accurately, the logic goes, might they just stay home? Adding to their concern: two lawyers pushing Trump’s claims, L. Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, have urged Republicans to withhold their votes if Georgia’s GOP leaders don’t act to overturn the state’s results for Trump.
To this point, this has been a largely theoretical exercise. But a new poll suggests there might indeed be some peril in this whole exercise for Republicans.
The Fox News poll asked people whether “this presidential election has made you more or less likely to vote in the next presidential election.” Overall, 75 percent say it has made them more likely, while just 11 percent say it has made them less likely.
But there is a partisan split. While 84 percent of Democrats say this election has made them more likely to vote in the next one, just 69 percent of Republicans say the same. Only 6 percent of Democrats say they’re less likely to vote, while 16 percent of Republicans say the same.
What’s more, the group with the highest “less likely” number? Trump voters. Fully 19 percent — about 1 in 5 — say they are less likely to vote in the next presidential election, vs. just 5 percent of Biden voters. No other group broken out in the poll says it is as turned off as Trump voters; the next highest numbers come from voters under 45 years old, Whites without college degrees and rural voters, with the latter two groups overlapping significantly with Trump’s base.
You could look at those numbers and explain it away as voters just being dejected about their candidate losing. But the same question in 2016 showed no such partisan difference after Trump’s win. At the time, 80 percent of both Republicans and Democrats said they were more likely to vote thanks to the election.
Ditto the 2000 election. Despite ongoing litigation over the George W. Bush-Al Gore race, a Fox poll at the time showed identical numbers -- 80 percent -- of both parties said they were more likely to vote next time. Gore voters were sightly less likely to say so, but the gap was small (81-76), and that was before the race was officially over.
There are two questions that follow from there.
One is why people say this. Just because there is a partisan difference doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of the voter fraud crusade. Perhaps Republicans are responding to their candidate’s loss in a different way than Democrats did in 2016 — either because they expected to win or because they are frustrated.
The second is what it means, practically speaking. Just because people say they are less likely to vote doesn’t mean they won’t turn out. Perhaps this is a momentary expression of frustration rather than a true expression of intent. And four years is a long time for that frustration to subside — or be turned into something more productive for the GOP, like determination to gain a different result.
But that longer-term calculus isn’t much help right now in Georgia, where early voting began Monday in the state’s Jan. 5 Senate runoffs. Democrats could gain control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency if they win both races. Republicans entered those races as slight favorites, despite the state going narrowly for President-elect Joe Biden last month.
But Trump’s baseless and failing voter fraud crusade is certainly presenting some perhaps unhelpful variables. It has led the vast majority of Republicans to believe the race was indeed stolen, and it appears it won’t stop even though the electoral college made Biden’s win official Monday.
Another thing to emphasize about the poll question is that it wasn’t about voting more generally, but rather about the next presidential election. If you asked the same question specifically about Republicans and Trump voters in Georgia about the runoffs, you might get a different result — especially given the stakes involved for their party. Republicans have rebuked Wood and Powell for their boycott campaign, and Trump himself has emphasized the importance of voting in the runoffs (even as he’s offered some decidedly mixed signals at other times).
In other words, we’ll have to see whether this difference means anything practically in Georgia. But the poll does put some meat on the bone when it comes to the GOP’s concerns about depressing its own turnout.