Arizona Republicans’ so-called audit of the 2020 election is a charade driven by conspiracy theories and outright lies that has no chance of overturning Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden.
But half of Republican voters have bought into the former president’s lies anyway, and believe the “audit” could generate the sort of evidence that leads to Trump’s eventual reinstatement as president, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday.
The poll, which asked 1,994 registered voters nationwide about a wide range of topics, found that 51% of registered Republican voters think the audit will uncover the sort of information that could change the outcome of the election. The figure is identical among self-identified Trump voters. Another recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 29% of GOP voters think it is likely that the audit and others like it will result in Trump’s return to office. The same share of GOP voters believe Arizona-type reviews will definitely lead to a new election result, an outcome that is impossible under the U.S. Constitution.
The Republican Party’s nominal leaders in Washington aren’t questioning the results of the election or promoting the audit in any way. When we asked Republican senators if they planned to attend Trump’s reinstatement ceremony this summer, they laughed and said no. (Except for Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who said he “hadn’t heard about it.”)
But the idea of a second coming of the Trump presidency is something lots of Republican voters seem to take seriously, and people like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would rather badmouth Biden than lead their base to the truth.
Meanwhile, Trump has reportedly told associates he will be reinstated as president in August, and he puts out several statements a week saying the election was stolen. On Monday, he threatened Pennsylvania Republicans who didn’t support an audit: “What went on in Philadelphia and other areas of the State must be properly and legally exposed.”
The Politico/Morning Consult survey is just the latest to illustrate the potency of the lies Trump and the Republican Party have told about the 2020 election. It doesn’t matter that hundreds of actual election audits that followed best practices and industry and legal standards turned up no evidence that widespread fraud occurred, and election officials from both parties, and in nearly every state, have repeatedly stated that the 2020 contest was conducted in a safe and secure fashion.
That hasn’t stopped an increasingly radical band of Republican lawmakers from continuing to spread the same lies, which also drove the Arizona Senate GOP’s decision to conduct its own “audit” of the results in Maricopa County, where Trump lost last year. Republican lawmakers ― including several who were in Washington for the Trump rally that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol ― have flocked to the audit site in Phoenix with the hopes of generating similar reviews in their home states.
The review, which many election observers won’t even refer to as an audit, is being conducted by a firm with no experience auditing elections. It is rife with problems, has wasted time chasing conspiracy theories, and, independent observers and even GOP election officials have noted, has failed to adhere to even the most basic standards of a normal election audit. In the process, it has likely compromised Maricopa County’s voting machines, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
Still, many Republicans who helped Trump spread lies about fraud continue to ignore those claims: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a leader of the Senate Republican faction that sought to throw out the election, told HuffPost this week that Democrats and election officials who have criticized the audit are doing so because they’re insufficiently concerned about voter fraud.
“I think any effort to ensure election integrity is a worthwhile thing,” Cruz said. “I think it is bizarre how desperate Democrats and the corrupt corporate media are to avoid any scrutiny into the question of voter fraud.”
Plenty of legitimate audits have already applied that scrutiny: There were 250 post-election audits conducted in the state of Michigan alone, the state bureau of elections said in April, and none found evidence of widespread voter fraud. An audit of a New Hampshire city’s election that Trump hoped would bolster his claims instead turned up nothing suspicious. Hand and electronic recounts and reviews of elections in Georgia, Arizona and other key states Trump lost have come to similar conclusions.
“There has never been an election in American history that was more auditable and verifiable, and also [more] audited, verified and scrutinized, than the 2020 election,” David Becker, the head of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said during a recent press call.
But the poll also demonstrates that Democrats and election officials haven’t necessarily succeeded in convincing the general public that the Arizona audit isn’t a legitimate election review. Registered voters are evenly split, with 45% strongly or somewhat in favor of it, and 41% strongly or somewhat opposed. Nearly a third of all registered voters believe it will definitely or probably generate information sufficient to overturn the election, although that is driven by GOP voters: Just 16% of Democrats and 24% of independent voters see that as a possibility.
It is not a possibility, no matter what the “audit” uncovers or claims to uncover, but the poll suggests the lies are having a significant effect on voters’ faith in elections across the spectrum. In that sense, the Arizona “audit” may be having its intended effect.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the first senator to announce he would object to the election result on Jan. 6, laughed when HuffPost asked if he would attend a second Trump inauguration this summer. He has avoided calling the election “rigged” while continuously saying people have legitimate concerns about “election integrity.”
“I don’t think any reasonable person thinks there wasn’t fraud before testimony about fraud,” he said. “The question is, how widespread is it, what are the effects of it?”
Fraud wasn’t widespread. Nationwide, just 16 people have faced criminal charges for trying to vote illegally in last year’s election, according to The Washington Post. That amounts to less than one case for every 10 million votes cast in the presidential election. And at least some of them voted illegally for Trump.
Lies about election fraud ― and widespread belief among Republican voters that it occurred ― have already been used to justify GOP efforts to implement a wave of new voting restrictions across the states, and led to sharp increases in the number of death threats and other threats of violence aimed at election officials nationwide. The extent to which GOP voters are still buying into the lies driving the Arizona audit and the push for others like it has also sparked fears about how Trump’s most fervent supporters may react when he’s not back in the White House later this summer.
“This misinformation is dangerous,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) told HuffPost last week. “And the rhetoric is ramping up the same way it did after the November election.”