Election Denialism Lives On, Even As Candidates Who Support It Concede

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.


As the dust settles on a vast majority of last Tuesday’s races, splashy headlines have concluded that voters rejected the far-right candidates who baselessly denied the 2020 election results. And while that is partly true, a FiveThirtyEight story from last week explained that election-denying political newcomers suffered the most. In other words, questioning the results of the 2020 election didn’t help fresh-faced GOP candidates, but it also didn’t hurt Republican incumbents. 

The vast majority of election-denying candidates who lost their races have conceded, but this is not necessarily a sign that American politicians are ready to leave election fraud conspiracy theories behind. This week, former President Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential run, and he’s likely to bring his long-standing claims of fraud back to the campaign trail with him. Meanwhile, data from the past two years shows that trust in the electoral process has stayed consistently low among Republicans — suggesting that some of Trump’s supporters will remain open to those allegations. As long as that’s true, election denial could continue to play a role in American elections. 

On the whole, it appears that a majority of Americans do believe in the integrity of the nation’s elections: An Oct. 3-20 poll conducted by Gallup showed that 63 percent of U.S. adults were at least somewhat confident ballots would be “accurately cast and counted” in this year’s midterms. However, that total figure obscures a wide partisan gap. Nearly all Democrats trust electoral processes (85 percent), but less than half of Republicans (40 percent) agree. And the gap has grown even more exaggerated since 2020 when 76 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans had faith in accurate ballots numbers. 

But it hasn’t always been this way. Gallup has been tracking election confidence for almost two decades and found in 2004 that 87 percent of Republicans had faith in the system, versus 59 percent of Democrats, due in large part to the aftermath of the 2000 election between President George W. Bush and Al Gore. And notably, the growth of doubt among Republicans began long before Trump, sprouting just before the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. That year, the share of Republicans who trusted the electoral process fell to 57 percent. With the exception of 2018, it’s been headed slowly southward ever since. 

That said, Republicans aren’t a monolith, and the share of distrust wavers across subgroups, such as gender. Sixty percent of Republican men said they see the midterm elections as free and fair, versus just 44 percent of the party’s women, per polling conducted by the Morning Consult last week. That split has held steady in regular polling since January 2021. 

Some Republican candidates, meanwhile, have begun shifting their tone on election integrity. Their responses to this year’s losses were very different compared to those in 2020. The “red wave” that failed to materialize hasn’t incited an immediate eruption of election-denying finger pointers. Some of the most vocal 2020 conspiracy theorists on Americans’ ballots — like Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire — have acknowledged their losses with minimal pushback. 

But there’s not yet enough polling data available to tell whether those acceptances are impacting the trust Republican voters place in election outcomes. And simple concessions shouldn’t be used as a proxy for restored confidence in the voting system, even among the candidates doing the conceding. For example, Kim Crockett, who ran unsuccessfully for Minnesota’s Secretary of State, did acknowledge her loss, but with a caveat of unfounded fraud accusations across her website and social media posts. “I gave it my all. But they cheat,” she wrote in a Facebook post last Thursday. 

All of this is to say that election denial is alive and well and still capable of rearing its ugly head in 2024.

Other polling bites 

  • Forty-three percent of Americans think that the Republican Party is more divided than united, compared with just half as many (21 percent) who said the same about Democrats, according to YouGov polling conducted on Nov. 16. Notably, equal amounts of Republican respondents (33 percent) said both parties were divided. Meanwhile, more than half of Democrats said Republicans were divided (53 percent), while few considered their own party split (12 percent).
  • Overall, Americans are currently optimistic about the state of COVID-19, per an Oct. 11-19 Gallup survey. Roughly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) consider the national coronavirus situation to be getting better, up markedly from 41 percent in July, while only 11 percent think things are getting worse. A record high of 44 percent also think the pandemic is over, although partisan breakdowns differ widely: 73 percent of Republicans agreed, compared with 21 percent of Democrats.
  • A Nov. 10 YouGov survey found that just under half (45 percent) of Americans say they’ve voted “split-ticket” in an election. That breakdown, however, varies widely by age. Fifty-five percent of respondents ages 65 and older reported having cast ballots for candidates of varying parties in at least one election, but only 34 percent under 30 said the same. Party affiliation, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be a telling indicator of how likely someone was to vote-split ticket: Republicans (45 percent), Democrats (46) and independents (49 percent) all reported doing so at similar rates.
  • Support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the rise among Republican primary voters, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted Nov. 2-7 that shows a steady uptick in his popularity since June. Twenty-six percent said they’d support him as the 2024 GOP Presidential nominee, up from 19 percent in September. Meanwhile, 48 percent stood behind Donald Trump, a number that hasn’t wavered much over the last year. There are clear demographic splits among supporters of each group: Nearly half of those backing DeSantis (48 percent) have at least a college degree, compared with less than a third (29 percent) of those behind Trump. DeSantis also has a larger share of popularity among voters from an increasingly important part of the country electorally — suburbia: 60 percent of his supporters live in the suburbs, compared with 47 percent of Trump’s.

Biden approval

Election Denialism Lives On, Even As Candidates Who Support It Concede 1

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 41.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.4 points). At this time last week, 41.2 percent approved and 53.5 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -12.3 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 42.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.2 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.4 points.