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As many Republican candidates sow doubt about America’s democratic elections system, questions have arisen about whether those in key midterm races will refuse to concede if they lose on Election Day. Cynthia Miller-Idriss of American University's Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab joined Laura Barrón-López to discuss concerns about the potential for violence.
As many Republican candidates sow doubt about America's democratic election system, questions have arisen about whether those in key midterm races will refuse to concede if they lose on Election Day.
Laura Barrón-López has more.
When asked by The New York Times, six Republican candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate said they would not commit to accepting the results of their races. Other GOP candidates simply haven't responded.
Those noncommittals been fueled by election lies, and they raise concerns about the potential for violence.
Joining me now to discuss this is Cynthia Miller-Idriss, the director of research at American University's Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab.
Cynthia, thanks for joining.
I want to get to two examples of this pattern. There are two statewide GOP candidates in Arizona, Kari Lake and Blake Masters, and they both have not committed to accepting the election result, or they have either flirted with or embraced election lies.
Jonathan Karl, ABC News:
Why it is that you have not said — or maybe you will do it now — you have not said that you will accept the certified results of this election, even if you lose this election.
Kari Lake (R), Arizona Gubernatorial Candidate: I will accept the results of this election if we have a fair, honest and transparent election, absolutely, 100 percent.
So, if you were to lose — and you're ahead, but if you were to lose, and you went out and you had all your appeals, they went through?
As long as it's fair, honest and transparent.
And certified. I mean, who's going to determine that? Are you going to determine that, or what — if it's a certified…
Well, it looks like my opponent might have to determine that. That's an interesting…
Well, she is the secretary — she is the secretary of state.
That's an interesting conundrum, isn't it?
Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: If you want to get across the line, you got to go stronger on that one thing, because that was the one thing you had a lot of complaints about.
Look at Kari. Karine is winning with very little money. And if they say, how is your family, she says, the election was rigged and stolen. You will lose if you go soft. You're going to lose that base.
Blake Masters (R), Arizona Senatorial Candidate: I'm not going soft.
Should Republicans like Kari Lake or Blake Masters lose, are you concerned at all that Republicans like them won't concede?
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, American University:
I'm definitely concerned. I mean, I think we should all be concerned when we hear people running for office, say things that undermine trust in the system, that delegitimize the election system, and that clearly are putting kind of party over country in this case.
I think it's really an argument that — they're not saying they won't necessarily not accept the election, although some of them have, but they're creating tremendous uncertainty about it. And, to be honest, uncertainty is one of the things that we know creates vulnerability to conspiracy theories.
So it becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy here that people then become less confident about the election process itself.
Potentially a vicious cycle there.
We heard from local state reporters just now. The one in Nevada said that the secretary of state candidate there, the Republican, Jim Marchant, is making election fraud claims, false election fraud claims, a pillar of his campaign.
What impact does casting doubts about past and present elections have on the electorate?
Well, it's incredible.
We have seen just in really recent polling that over 70 percent of Americans are concerned about democracy itself. I think the electorate really sees this as a consistent problem. They know that the election system is under fire. They're concerned about it. And that's — it's clear that their trust is being undermined.
But we also see that they're not voting that way. And so there is a very small percentage of them that say that that's the most important issue that will drive their vote. So they're still making decisions based on things that they think affect them personally, like crime, perceived crime or inflation. They're not actually making decisions about the fact that democracy is in trouble.
They're just acknowledging that it's in trouble. And so I think we're seeing here that the system itself is in trouble, that people know that it's in trouble, and yet that's — they're not persuaded enough to vote in a way that will change that. And so it's a really dangerous situation to be in.
And even though voters may be voting on issues, a majority of Republican voters believe Trump's false election lies.
And that brings me to the former president, which is that former President Trump is probably the most prominent election denier in modern history. Do you see any historical parallels?
Well, of course, we have. And you have to take this comparison very carefully, but we have this historical comparison of a fragile democracy in Weimar, in the Weimar Republic in Germany, when you actually had a — the Nazi Party stage a Beer Hall Putsch.
I mean, we remember that time as an attempted kind of insurrection or takeover. And that took a decade before that led to more authoritarian situations and a collapse of democracy. So, one of the things I think we have to understand is that democracies don't collapse overnight. We know that we're on a backsliding path. We have seen that.
That's been documented. We're on a list of — globally of backsliding democracies. But we — that we have to start intervening in ways to prevent that and stop the slide from getting worse. And, right now, it's not. We're continuing to see it go in the wrong direction.
And after Beer Hall Putsch, the Nazi Party then again rose to power.
Right, 10 years later, right? So it did take some time.
And we see that democracies need cultivation, they need reinforcement, they need civic education and protection. But you also have to ward off the bad, and you have to protect yourself against the conspiracy theories and the false claims and the things that chip away with 1,000 small cuts at democracies.
And the last time we saw these false election claims, false election fraud claims…
… be repeated over and over and over again, then the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol happened.
Based on your research, do you think that there could be similar incidents after this election?
I think that we're in a moment where additional political violence is almost an inevitability.
So the question is, how bad is it going to be? I don't think that, after the midterm elections, we're going to see the kind of violence that we saw on January 6. I'm hopeful about that. But I also don't think we're at the end of this backsliding situation that we're in. I do think things are going to continue to get a bit worse before we're able to pull it back.
So I think one of the things that we do see is that people are clearly mobilized to action, and to violent action, based on disinformation and based on false claims about election integrity. And we have to be doing everything we can to prevent that kind of violence from reoccurring.
And, very quickly, you mentioned that the U.S. has been placed on this backsliding scale of democracies.
How long does it typically take for countries to correct course?
That's a great — as a nerdy academic, that's the first thing I did, was go look at the data when we got added to that.
And it takes, on average, nine years to move in one direction or the other. So, countries get added to that list. We have about a decade, about nine years, and now it's about eight years, because we have been on it for almost a year, before you either, essentially, on average, collapse into a nondemocratic state or you're restored.
And so this isn't just a short-term problem for the 2022 or 2024 elections. It's a problem for the next eight to 10 years.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, thank you so much for your time.
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Laura Barrón-López is the White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, where she covers the Biden administration for the nightly news broadcast. She is also a CNN political analyst.
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