Is reform the way out of extremism?
Mindy Finn is the Founder and CEO of Citizen Data, a democracy-centric data analytics company. Throughout her extensive career, she has fought to improve politics, polarization, and voting, with prior roles with Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, and Twitter, Inc.
With new information coming out about Fox News' role in advancing election lies, we take this opportunity to look more closely at the lasting impact of election trust on recent elections.
Following a robust analysis of available data and insights detailed in my company Citizen Data’s latest Political Impact Report, we found that while many prominent election deniers did lose in key races in 2022, the threat of election denial remains pervasive. Yet, hope remains for pro-democracy advocates as the breadth of midterm data demonstrates the potential efficacy of electoral reform efforts on curbing candidate extremism.
In 2022, Americans were moved to the polls because of the economy more than anything else. Half of Americans ranked inflation as a top three issue, followed by abortion and immigration, both of which trailed by nearly 20%.
In Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, battleground states where the most financially-backed challenges between pro- and anti-democratic candidates took place, voters were more likely to cite “protecting elections” as a top issue surpassing “immigration” in some states.
In fact, 61% of these voters said protecting democracy was very important in determining who they voted for during the 2022 General. Notably, it was in these battleground states that the more prominent election-denying candidates lost or underperformed compared to their more moderate counterparts, especially at the hands of Republican voters who instead decided to cast a ballot for a Democrat.
Given these trends rejecting election deniers in many key races, we were surprised to learn after examining all races for Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and U.S. House & Senate nationwide, that almost half of all 2022 general election winners questioned the results of the 2020 election.
Perhaps most concerning, we found that being an “election denier” actually increased a candidate’s vote share somewhere between 1 - 5 percentage points in the general election relative to their counterparts who trusted the results of the 2020 election. This willingness to accept a candidate despite or, in some cases, because of their election denial claims tells us it’s doubtful that the election denial campaign strategy will be thrown out any time soon.
However, we don’t share this news without hope. We also investigated various election reforms that organizations like Unite America, FairVote, Open Primaries, Institute for Political Innovation, and countless others have been pursuing for decades, like Ranked Choice Voting (RCV or Instant Runoff Voting) and eliminating partisan primaries to measure the role they played in curbing extremism like 2020 election denial.
We found that states with Top 2, Top 4 RCV, or statewide RCV were three times less likely to have an election denier win in the 2022 general election compared to states without these reforms in use. Even more encouraging, we found widespread support for these reforms, as nearly 6 in 10 voters nationwide said they would support a reform similar to Top 4 in Alaska in their state.
The alarm must not silence in the wake of high-profile election deniers losing this past election cycle, because as the data shows, this is likely just the beginning. The democracy community must band together to disrupt the potential positive side effects of election denial in the campaign process and support reforms that enable moderation and competition.
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