The truth about Donald Trump voters and violence in politics

With bolstered security in Washington and across the country, the chance of violence is on the minds of many Americans. But there is another issue. Could Donald Trump voters accept Joe Biden as president?

The false claims about election fraud started months back on the political right and increased after the election. A few memorable instances include false claims that voting machines had switched votes to Biden, that large numbers for Trump ballots were destroyed, and that Republican election officials were unfairly restricted from observing election stations. Despite such false claims, no evidence was found for systemic election fraud and all legal challenges have been rejected by the federal courts.

So these false claims constitute misinformation. With a recent study, we investigated the extent to which voters believe these false claims about election fraud and also if they back political violence. We conducted our survey three days after the election was called in favor for Biden last fall. We polled over 600 Trump voters and over 1,000 Biden voters, ensuring the national distribution on age, gender, region, and ethnicity.

We worked to determine the extent that voters believe in the false claims of election fraud and the election outcome as well as the possible effects. So what would lead Trump voters to accept Biden as the president? What would they do when Biden is inaugurated and if Trump does not concede? We found that false beliefs about election fraud and a Trump victory were clear among his voters. Almost 80 percent of Trump voters do believe that election fraud is common, despite no evidence to support this, while over 60 percent believe that Trump won the election. Only about 20 percent of Trump voters believe that the Biden victory to be legitimate.

However, another 20 percent said they would view Biden as the legitimate president if Trump lost his legal challenges or conceded the election. Less than 10 percent could be convinced if Trump lost his legal challenges but not if he conceded. Furthermore, another 10 percent could be convinced if Trump conceded but not if he lost his legal challenges. Yet 40 percent of Trump voters said that they will continue to view Biden as illegitimate regardless. As for political unrest, very few voters on either side showed high levels for spite or support of violence. Almost 90 percent of Trump voters said they would not protest the inauguration of Biden.

We also took a look at what characteristics correlate with false beliefs about election fraud and the election outcome. What makes someone more likely to believe in false claims? We found that Trump voters with more knowledge of politics and more engagement with election news were more likely to hold false beliefs. We must note that knowledge of politics and engagement with election news is different from cognitive reflection, which is a measure of the ability and tendency for analytical thinking. People with greater analytical thinking skills were associated with reduced false beliefs that Trump won the election.

Our survey had mixed results. The bad news is that 40 percent of Trump voters have said that they will continue to view Biden as illegitimate. For numbers that high, it is difficult to see an end to our national divide. But the positive news is that the majority of all voters do support a peaceful transition of power and do not support political violence.

David Rand is the Erwin Schell professor and a professor for management science and cognitive science for the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. Gordon Pennycook is a professor for behavioral science with Hill School of Business at University of Regina.

Tags Americans Constitution Democracy Election Government Politics President

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