Trump supporters’ confidence in electoral institutions jumped after he won, study finds

Donald Trump voters became more likely to believe their vote was counted correctly following the election, despite the presidential candidate’s own claims that the voting process was a sham. The new findings appear in the scientific journal Political Research Quarterly.

“My coauthors and I were drawn to the topic of voter confidence because the presidential candidates in the 2016 election discussed the issue in a way that we had never really seen before,” said study author Patrick Tucker, a postdoctoral research associate at Yale University’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies and the Center for the Study of American Politics.

“Most obviously, Donald Trump called the system rigged against him, while on the other, Hillary Clinton’s campaign went to great lengths to emphasize the strength of electoral institutions. Previous studies demonstrated ‘winner effects’ following national elections, and we were curious to see if these effects were different in such a unique environment.”

The researchers analyzed data collected by The American Panel Survey, a monthly nationally-representative survey of 2,000 U.S. adults. They examined responses from September 2014 to January 2017.

Tucker and his colleagues confirmed there was a winner effect among Trump voters, who became more confident in the electoral process after his victory in November.

“Our study confirms previous studies that election outcomes influence voters’ perceptions of electoral integrity: on average, voters for the winner improve their perception that their ballot was counted as intended, but voters for the loser develop less confident perceptions,” he told PsyPost.

“While the 2016 election witnessed heightened discussion of electoral integrity, we find that Trump voter’s level of confidence wasn’t all that different from where it had been in 2014. Nonetheless, the Trump victory was associated with substantive and durable improvements in confidence among his voters.”

“Conversely, confidence change in the pre-election period among Clinton voters may overstate the shift in confidence among her supporters,” Tucker explained. “The loss in November was associated with a very steep drop in voter confidence from October 2016, but when compared to 2014, this change was relatively modest. Our data suggest that the Clinton voters were primed to report higher levels of confidence in the run-up to November.”

“Finally, our data allow us to identify the nuance of change for both candidates’ supporters. We find that less educated Trump voters were the most likely to improve their confidence, while Clinton voters with strong party attachments were the most likely to report lower levels of confidence in November.”

The researchers also examined how reports of Russian hacking and interference in the election, which appeared to reduce confidence in the electoral process.

“While our findings demonstrate that news of potential Russian tampering with voting systems exacerbated the lack of confidence among Clinton voters, our data provide less clear results on such effects with Trump voters,” Tucker said.

“Our model estimates that such news was associated with Trump voters also decreasing their level of confidence. We are cautious with this result, however, because those panelists responding after the story broke were significantly different from those responding before the story was covered.”

The research — like all studies — has some limitations.

“While our findings suggest that the campaign inflated Clinton voters’ confidence in the vote count, we have no causal evidence to demonstrate such an effect,” Tucker explained.

“Election outcomes not only influence policy, but they also influence how citizens perceive the strength of democratic institutions. While our data suggest some durable change in citizens’ faith in vote counting, social science would be well-served to identify the broader consequences of these shifts.”

The study, “‘It’s Largely a Rigged System’: Voter Confidence and the Winner Effect in 2016“, was authored by Betsy Sinclair, Steven S. Smith, and Patrick D. Tucker.