WASHINGTON D.C., Sep 2, 2020, The Guardian. Three in four supporters of Democratic challenger Joe Biden are worried about the prospect of Donald Trump rejecting the US presidential election result if it goes against him, an Opinium Research poll for the Guardian shows.
The survey underlined fears that the president will not accept the outcome of November’s race, triggering a constitutional crisis. Last week two congressional Democrats wrote to the Pentagon seeking assurance that the military would ensure an orderly transfer of power.
Nearly half of all Americans (47%) say they are worried about the possibility of Trump losing the election but refusing to concede defeat, Opinium found. Among Biden voters, that figure climbs to 75%, whereas for Trump voters it stands at 30%.
Conversely, two in five (41%) Trump voters are worried that Biden will lose but not concede, as opposed to one in four Biden voters (28%).
Trump has spent months spreading disinformation and attacking the integrity of the voting process. He declared in August: “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” It appears that he is making some headway in encouraging Americans to distrust their democracy.
Three in five (60%) Trump voters are worried that the election is being rigged, according to the poll. More than half of Biden voters (53%) share the same concern.
The president has repeatedly sought to delegitimise mail-in voting, expected to surge to a record high because of the coronavirus pandemic, making baseless claims that it is prone to irregularities. Despite the lack of evidence, these broadsides appear to have gained some traction.
Three in four (73%) Trump voters are worried about mail-in voting being used to commit fraud, according to Opinium, more than double the share of Biden voters (36%) with the same anxiety.
In addition, a majority of both camps are worried about the beleaguered postal service not being able deliver ballots for mail-in voting in time and that their vote won’t be counted properly. More than a third of citizens are worried that they won’t be able to cast their vote.
Five states already vote almost entirely by mail and the practice has been growing nationally with each presidential election. The pandemic is expected to accelerate that trend, from 20.9% in 2016 to 39% who say they vote by mail in 2020.
There is a stark partisan divide that Trump is apparently seeking to exploit. More than two in three (68%) of the president’s supporters say they intend to vote in person, while just one in four (27%) intend to vote by mail.
By contrast, more than half (56%) of Biden supporters plan to vote by mail and two in five (39%) intend to vote in person. The imbalance has raised fears that media outlets will jump the gun and project a winner based on in-person votes, long before the mail-in ballots are counted. A state such as Virginia might appear to favour Trump on the night but trend towards Biden as the days pass.
A potential scenario was summarised by Crooked Media’s daily newsletter: “We could see election-night results that skew overwhelmingly towards Trump, with days of lag time before all the Biden ballots get counted. It’s a possibility that journalists should be prepared for, in the event that Trump tries to claim victory based on incomplete returns.”
Opinium Research’s poll confirms that many people are braced for a break from the tradition of a winner being declared in the early hours of the morning after election day.
Just 36% of Americans say they expect to know the result the next day, with 23% expecting to know within the next week and 17% saying some time later on in November. The disputed 2000 election between George W Bush and Al Gore prompted an epic legal battle that was not settled by the supreme court until 12 December.
Opinium surveyed 2,002 American adults between 21 and 25 August, after the Democratic national convention but before the Republican one. The survey was conducted online and weighted to represent the US adult population according to demographics, education and past voting behaviour.
It found Biden leading Trump by a huge 15 points – 56% to 41% – among those who are registered to vote and indicate that they are certain to do so. In swing states Wisconsin and Florida, Biden enjoys leads of 14 points (56% v 42%) and seven points up (53% v 46%) respectively.
Biden has a big advantage over Trump on the issues of healthcare and race relations but trails the president on the economy (42% for Trump v 39% for Biden). This remains one of the Trump campaign’s big hopes, given the importance of the economy in past elections; Trump has been pushing for businesses and schools to reopen despite the persistence of Covid-19.
Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate has also boosted his standing. Americans are more confident that Harris would be ready to take on the presidency if the situation arose (52%) than the current vice-president, Mike Pence (47%).
Opinium Research’s findings come amid growing concerns in some quarters that Trump, who has routinely pushed boundaries and shattered norms, even delivering his Republican national convention acceptance speech at the White House, is determined to cling to power irrespective of the election outcome.
Last week the Washington Post reported that Democratic congresswomen Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey wrote to Gen Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the defense secretary Mark Esper, noting the military’s obligations to follow the orders of the legitimately elected commander in chief.
“The questions would have been almost unthinkable at any time in the nation’s history outside of the civil war,” the Post observed. “The two asked Milley if he was aware that the Uniform Code of Military Justice ‘criminalizes mutiny and sedition’ and if he understood that he was legally bound to follow the lawful orders only of the legitimately elected president.”