Ten Miles Square

Blog

October 18, 2012 11:17 AM Are We Crazy Yet?

By Jonathan Bernstein

Tim Murphy says that “we’re all slowly going insane,” but I’m not so sure. The occasion is a Public Policy Polling poll that finds that everyone predicts one thing: fraud by the other side.

-In Ohio 62% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 50% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.
-In Florida 60% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 55% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.
-In North Carolina 69% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 51% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.

Recall that plenty of liberals believed relatively far-fetched (and false, I should add) conspiracy theories about voting machines in 2004, although at least that election was close enough that it at least it was plausible that had someone done something it might have made a difference; recall that plenty of conservatives actually reported believing that the 2008 election was stolen by ACORN, even though that one was entirely implausible (and, once again, false).

So I’m not sure what to make of it all. It’s really easy to make a gloom-and-doom pronouncement about how the Republic is finished because no one believes in elections any more. On the other hand, it could be that surveys would have produced exactly the same results throughout US history. Maybe we’ve always been equally insane! And at any rate, the question as asked (“Do you think Democrats/Republicans will engage in voter fraud to ensure that Barack Obama wins the election, or not?”) could be interpreted relatively benignly as simply asking whether the other party, or at least some in the other party, will attempt whatever it can get away with. That’s no conspiracy thinking — it’s probably true!

I don’t know…I fully expect that if Barack Obama wins a reasonably close race, a good number of GOP opinion leaders will claim that he illegally stole the election, and the people who listen to them will believe it. I expect, too, that if Mitt Romney wins a very close race, a fair number of rank-and-file Democrats will buy into claims that Republicans stole the election. And, yeah, I would expect some difference; I would expect far fewer mainstream Democratic politicians and other opinion leaders to go whole-hog conspiracy than I expect Republican politicians would if it’s reversed. Whether that constitutes a threat to the Republic, however…it’s probably worth keeping an eye on, but probably not at these levels.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.
tags