Republicans Have Lied Themselves Into a Voter Turnout Problem

The GOP has done such a good job convincing its base that elections are a fraud, many of its supporters are giving up on casting ballots.

The Arizona state legislature’s incompetent and conspiracy-fueled “audit” of the 2020 election has turned out to be a dud. Conservatives spent months anticipating the results with bated breath, in the hopes of “proving” voter fraud, somehow decertifying the election and creating a Donald Trump restoration. Instead, even the blatantly partisan, ramshackle, and drawn-out review failed to turn up a scintilla of evidence of systemic fraud. In fact, it spent 6 million in taxpayer dollars to discover—if their methods can be trusted—that Biden actually won by 360 more votes than had originally been thought.

It’s hard to overstate how much trouble this may cause for Republicans, especially in their attempts to motivate their own base to turn out in future elections.

Of course, as Greg Sargent and others have noted, string pullers in the Republican Party don’t need to actually prove any fraud to use even the faintest “irregularities” as a justification for new voter suppression efforts. Indeed, even as the “audit” report confirmed Biden’s victory, it also, unsurprisingly, recommended “reforms” to restrict mail-in voting and remove people from the voter rolls. Republicans in Texas are also selectively auditing large Democratic-leaning counties in a transparently racist and partisan effort to cast doubt on elections in those communities. This, in turn, will provide them with an excuse to refuse to certify Democratic wins there, thereby aiding in their plans to subvert Electoral College results, let gerrymandered state legislatures and House delegations declare for the Republican candidate regardless of the real election outcome, and steal the presidency by a fiat coup. These dangers to democracy—and the ruthlessness of those planning them—should not be underestimated.

In the meantime, though, people do still vote—and Republicans don’t yet control every state they need to win to pull off the coup. Democracy in America is not dead yet—and Republicans need at least one or two more big legitimate wins to rig themselves a self-sustaining minority-controlled zombie democracy. They won’t get those wins if their base doesn’t vote.

Republicans face a very serious danger of a turnout crisis. When you constantly lie to your base that elections are rigged against you by shadowy forces, why should your base turn out to vote? If you tell your base that mail-in voting is fraudulent, you will give up a decades-long advantage of reliable absentee voters when they become much more unreliable Election Day voters, instead.

Despite Trump shocking pollsters with surprisingly strong turnout in two consecutive presidential elections, Republicans have not yet proved that they can match Democratic turnout in elections in which Trump is not on the ballot. GOP turnout was weak in the Georgia Senate elections that cost Mitch McConnell his leadership position; it was weak again in a New Mexico special election for the House this summer; and it was anemic in the California gubernatorial recall election, despite most of the supposed activist energy being on the conservative side. In fact, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom outperformed the polling average in the recall election by about 10 points.

The impact of false voter fraud claims on Republican turnout has not gone unnoticed. GOP strategists have blamed disappointing base turnout in California’s recall election, in which Larry Elder haphazardly attempted to preemptively blame voter fraud for his imminent defeat. Trump’s incessant ego-assuaging claims of voter fraud almost certainly cost the GOP votes in the Georgia Senate runoffs—and Republicans know it.

In this context, it’s interesting to read Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel’s tweets attempting to spin the embarrassing Arizona “audit” results. “There are clear process failures that need to be resolved so that voters have confidence in our elections,” she wrote. “Failure to establish trust in our election systems will suppress voter turnout.”

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works —and how to make it work better. More than fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

YES, I'LL MAKE A DONATION

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist, and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal” and president of the Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.