Are Perceptions of Election “Rigging” Racialized?
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has departed from the usual norms of campaigning by repeatedly alleging that the November election is “going to be rigged” by his opponents. In recent research, we find that concerns about the fairness of elections in the current era may have an insidious racial component. Specifically, we present evidence indicating that White Americans with more negative attitudes toward African Americans were more likely to see the 2008 and 2012 elections as unfair, even after controlling for other key reasons why citizens might dislike a particular election result (i.e., party identification and ideology).
As with many other things during this year’s US presidential election campaigns, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has departed from the usual norms of campaigning by repeatedly alleging that the November election is “going to be rigged” by his opponents. Trump’s claims seem to be trickling down to his supporters as well: a survey found that 7 out of 10 North Carolina voters backing Trump believe that if Hillary Clinton wins in November, it will be because the vote was rigged. Naturally, observers have raised concerns about the extremity of (and lack of hard evidence for) sentiments like these and their potential to chip away at the legitimacy of democratic institutions. Given the stakes, we believe that is important for social scientists look closely at what might be driving these troubling doubts about the fairness of the electoral process. Though some of this willingness to deny the legitimacy of electoral processes undoubtedly stems from seeing one’s candidate lose in an era of deep polarization (Sances & Stewart, 2015), we argue that American racial animosities that have come to influence attitudes toward everything from health-care reform to fiscal policy in the Obama era now also play a role in shaping White Americans’ beliefs about the fairness of US elections.
In this respect, concerns about American electoral unfairness in the present era did not begin with Trump. For example, worries about alleged widespread voter fraud have become endemic over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency, and they have inspired a wave of legislation at the state level aimed at tightening voter-ID requirements (Sobel, 2009). Such laws typically require individuals to show some form of government-approved identification when they show up at the polls.
These efforts have become quite controversial, given both a wealth of evidence suggesting that fraud of the sort targeted by voter-ID laws is extraordinarily rare (Minnite, 2010) and the laws’ potential to depress turnout among racial-minority groups (Barreto, Nuno, & Sanchez, 2009).