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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: We must conspire against conspiracy

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke in the Greensboro Coliseum on Tuesday, June 14th.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke in the Greensboro Coliseum on Tuesday, June 14th.

Since he lost the popular vote on election night nearly three months ago, President Trump has continued to suggest that he, in fact, won the majority of votes cast in the general election. In a tweet on Nov. 27, Trump said “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

No one, Trump administration-affiliated or otherwise, has produced any evidence that this massive voter fraud took place. Nonetheless, on Jan. 25, President Trump called for “a major investigation” into the fraud.

Unlike the body of evidence for the prevalence of voter fraud, the body of evidence for the failure of investigations regarding the issue is quite well-established.

Take, for example, Florida’s 2012 investigation, launched at the insistence of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, which, in a state with a population nearly as large as that of the continent of Australia, ended up removing only 85 voters from voter rolls.

In its famous study on voter fraud, the Brennan Center found that not only are most cases of “fraud” attributable to things like clerical errors, the actual rate of voter fraud is between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. In other words, an American citizen is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.

So, despite no evidence to back his claims, and with both history and empirical evidence against such ideas, Trump intends to waste the time of the federal government and the money of every tax-paying citizen of this country by investigating fraud, which has a near-zero chance of existing on the scale he refers to, in an election he has already won.

But despite lacking facts, Trump does have one of the most precious resources in Washington — public opinion. According to a recent Economist poll, over 60 percent of Trump voters believe there were millions of illegal votes cast last fall. Even if fiscally responsible conservatives in Congress wanted to stop Trump from this reckless and unnecessary spending, they couldn’t, because they share the same voter base as the president and that base has quite clearly voiced its full support for the president’s position.

The fact that Trump’s belief in conspiracy theories doesn’t come off as lunacy to the mass public shouldn’t surprise us. Trump rose to political prominence by demanding the then-sitting president of the United States release his long-form birth certificate in order to prove he was not born in Kenya. During the campaign, he implied Hillary Clinton used performance-enhancing drugs during a debate and suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. And he won.

And it’s not just Trump supporters who accept these types of claims. For example, half of Clinton voters believe that Russia directly manipulated the final vote count in order to hand Trump an electoral victory in November.

We must abandon the notion that conspiracy theorists are tin foil hat-wearing crazies. In fact, recent work in political science suggests that over half of the American population consistently endorses some sort of conspiratorial view of political phenomena. Furthermore, a 2014 study found that those who are more sophisticated than most — educated people with high levels of political knowledge — tend to believe in conspiracy theories at higher-than-average rates.

With the knowledge that conspiratorial thinking is so widespread, it is important for us to prevent it from becoming normalized to the point that it is unquestioned. This is not right versus left politics. Liberals and conservatives must unite against the erosion of the foundations of our democracy being generated by dishonesty and fear.

Public opinion is the ammunition needed by our representatives — Republican and Democrat — to be able to take a stand against such ludicrous measures as this proposed investigation. Both sides of the aisle in Washington are full of intelligent, reasonable people who know that what our President is doing is misguided and dangerous. So pick up the phone and let them know that they have your support in defending the facts — and not the alternative ones. 

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