WASHINGTON – A majority of Americans say they would find it inappropriate if the November election’s outcome was disputed in a variety of ways, with a small group saying violence would be justified if their preferred party lost, according to a new report.
About two-thirds of Americans (67%) believe it would be inappropriate if President Donald Trump loses but refuses to leave office because he claims he has credible evidence of illegal voting. The findings are part of a new report entitled “Democracy Maybe: Attitudes on Authoritarianism in America” from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group.
When broken down along partisan lines, majorities of Republicans (56%), Democrats (81%) and independents (53%) believe Trump refusing to leave office would be inappropriate. But almost three out of 10 Republicans (29%) say it would be appropriate for Trump to refuse to leave office if he claimed to have credible evidence of illegal voting.
Over the past several weeks, the president has claimed without evidence that the election is rigged, specifically taking aim at the many states looking to expand mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many experts have disputed Trump’s claim.
There is also concern over election tampering. Intelligence officials have said Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and there are concerns of interference again in November.
In a scenario where the Democratic nominee calls for a do-over election while claiming to have credible evidence of interference by a foreign government, slightly fewer than half of all Americans (45%) say that would be inappropriate.
The partisan split is much more pronounced on this question, with Republicans overwhelmingly (69%) saying this scenario would be inappropriate compared with 27% of Democrats. And nearly 4 in 10 (38%) Democrats say it would be appropriate to call for a re-do if there were claims that the nominee had credible evidence of foreign interference.
“A substantial portion of the public appears to be quite open to invalidating the results of the 2020 election, if their side loses,” said Joe Goldman, a co-author of the report. “And a worrying minority says that political violence would be justified if the other side wins the White House.”
Larry Diamond, co-author of the report, also warned that if there is a disputed election, foreign disinformation will likely try to drive violence among the American public.
“It’s going to be a petri dish for bots and trolls to intensify American anger, fear, rumor mongering, and so on,” Diamond said.
A small minority of both Republicans and Democrats also said they would turn to violence if their respective party does not win.
Among Democrats, 13% say that a little or moderate amount of violence is justified if the Republican wins the 2020 election. Another 9% of Democrats say that violence is justified a lot or a great deal. For Republicans, 11% say that a little or moderate amount of violence is justified if the Democrat wins, with an addition 10% say that a lot or great deal of violence is justified.
For both parties, that is nearly 1 out of every 4 people.
Although more than 7 in 10 Democrats and Republicans believe violence isn’t justified at all, the small percentage of respondents do represent millions of Americans.
“Even if you assume that it is just a fraction in a country of hundreds of millions of people, that’s still a sizable amount,” Goldman said. He warned that the internet could cultivate more violence as “everybody is operating in an environment of viralness and disinformation and often in an environment of echo chambers, in which those who share a point of view about violence can connect with one another.”
Despite a number of Americans who say they could dispute the elections, a large majority of Americans still say that a democratic political system is a good way to govern.
And more than half of Americans (58%) say it would be inappropriate for a candidate to call for a do-over election because they won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. A large majority of Republicans (78%) would find it inappropriate compared to the 47% of Democrats.
The findings of the report are based upon the December 2019 VOTER Survey from the group, which was conducted in partnership with YouGov. In total, 5,900 adults were surveyed between Nov. 22, 2019 and Dec. 23, 2019.