Since the election, surveys have consistently found that about 70 percent to 80 percent of Republicans don’t buy the results. They don’t agree that Joe Biden won fair and square. They say the election was rigged. And they say enough fraud occurred to tip the outcome.
Those numbers sound alarmingly high, and they imply that the overwhelming majority of people in one political party in America doubt the legitimacy of a presidential election. But the reality is more complicated, political scientists say. Research has shown that the answers that partisans (on the left as well as on the right) give to political questions often reflect not what they know as fact, but what they wish were true. Or what they think they should say.
It’s incredibly hard to separate sincere belief from wishful thinking from what political scientists call partisan cheerleading. But on this topic especially, the distinctions matter a lot. Are Republican voters merely expressing support for the president by standing by his claims of fraud — in effectively the same way Republicans in Congress have — or have they accepted widespread fraud as true? Do these surveys suggest a real erosion in faith in American elections, or something more familiar, and temporary?
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