Election Rigging Redux and Public Opinion in Texas

As Thanksgiving weekend 2016 came to an end, one of the more stinging tropes of the final weeks of the presidential campaign had suddenly re-emerged: The specter of rigged elections once again haunting America. With newly-voiced concerns about the integrity of the just-completed elections re-surfacing on both the left and the right, polling results from the October 2016 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll suggest the existence of receptive partisan audiences for recount calls and aggressive, if unsubstantiated, Tweets from the President-elect.

Suspicions about the electoral system broke to the surface again when Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed for a recount in Wisconsin, and threatened – that is, is raising money – to do so in Michigan and Pennsylvania, too, in response to reports of irregularities in some Wisconsin voting reports. The Clinton campaign subsequently announced that they would send legal observers to any recounts, though they are not contributing funds toward the Greens' efforts. 

Donald Trump issued Tweets belittling the Green effort, and then, not to be outdone, ignited a flurry of coverage late Sunday with a Tweet intimating that “the millions of people who voted illegally” meant he had actually won the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton is currently on track to win by perhaps as many as 2 million votes, according to most official sources. Almost instantaneous headlines and cable news coverage transmitted Trump’s Tweet, reopening the gaping wound of partisan suspicions towards the integrity of the system that Stein’s actions had already poked.

The October 2016 UT/TT Poll included a battery of questions probing Texans' attitudes about perceived weaknesses in the voting process. Republicans and Trump supporters (overlapping but not identical groups) expressed high levels of suspicion in all four question related to election security. Democrats and Clinton supporters were less uniformly suspicions.   

While headlines across mainstream news sites routinely characterized the Republican President-elect’s Tweet as being unsupported by evidence, he is likely to find a ready audience among his supporters and GOP partisans. In Texas, both groups were concerned about the problem of “people voting who are not eligible,” as the graphics below illustrate. A majority of Clinton voters, by contrast, did not view the problem as serious at all.

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categoryNot supporting Donald TrumpSupporting Donald Trump
Extremely serious18%77%
Somewhat serious11%18%
Not too serious19%3%
Not serious at all48%1%
Don't know3%0%

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Extremely serious15%58%70%
Somewhat serious8%11%19%
Not too serious20%16%4%
Not serious at all55%14%5%
Don't know2%1%2%

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categoryNot supporting Hillary ClintonSupporting Hillary Clinton
Extremely serious67%12%
Somewhat serious18%9%
Not too serious6%20%
Not serious at all6%57%
Don't know2%2%

Other results suggest that suspicions on the left side of the political spectrum were most pronounced about external subversion of electronic voting and the counting of votes – the concerns seemingly driving the Stein-led recount push (especially the former). While Democratic leaders appear to have embraced the recount effort somewhat reluctantly, and expressed the thought that they don’t expect any recounts or investigations to change the result of the presidential election, their public has likely been primed by suspicions of Russian hacking on behalf of Donald Trump. Older Democrats who also still harbor memories of the 2000 Florida recount may be activating those memories in this context. As the graphics below illustrate, ample concerns about the hacking of voting machines and accurate vote counting were evident in results from questions about those possibilities, though the magnitude of concern still trailed behind Republicans and Trump voters.

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categoryNot supporting Hillary ClintonSupporting Hillary Clinton
Extremely serious41%26%
Somewhat serious28%25%
Not too serious17%22%
Not serious at all10%21%
Don't know5%6%

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Extremely serious29%36%40%
Somewhat serious26%31%26%
Not too serious21%16%18%
Not serious at all19%14%11%
Don't know6%3%5%

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categoryNot supporting Donald TrumpSupporting Donald Trump
Extremely serious29%42%
Somewhat serious25%28%
Not too serious20%17%
Not serious at all18%10%
Don't know7%2%

It’s worth noting the even larger shares of Trump voters and Republicans that harbored these concerns as of October. For example, 40 percent of Republicans thought voting machines being hacked was an extremely serious problem, compared to only 29 percent of Democrats who thought the same. Still, more than half of both Republicans and Democrats thought it was an extremely or somewhat serious problem – though overall concern was higher among Republicans (66 percent and 55 percent, respectively), too.

While it quickly became a cliché by late October (albeit one backed up by lots of national polling data) that Americans were eager to get the election over with, suspicions of the integrity of the system may well have become deeply rooted in voters’ attitudes, especially but not exclusively among Republican voters. Given that the system he regaled as “rigged” delivered to him the presidency, albeit without the nicety of winning the popular vote, it seemed reasonable to expect that Donald Trump might stop stoking these suspicions, so as to let them abate along with the nastiness of the election. Yet again, reasonable expectations have proven a poor guide in predicting his political path.