As the 2022 midterm elections approach, the Republican Party still overwhelmingly embraces former president Donald Trump’s baseless lie that he won the 2020 election. Republican candidates running for positions at all levels of government are making voter fraud and election integrity the focus of their campaigns.
But this focus isn’t all about Trump. The focus on voter fraud and threats to election integrity — which research has repeatedly shown to be unfounded — comes because an increasing proportion of U.S. voters are non-White, especially when that diversity is found in GOP candidates’ own districts.
GOP reaction to greater racial diversity
Scholars find that the Republican Party has attracted white Americans concerned about the nation’s changing racial demographics. These concerns include fears that immigration will negatively affect the economy, health care, education systems and crime rates, along with the belief that the U.S. government now unfairly favors non-white citizens. With that base, the GOP has been using a series of tactics to stop racial and ethnic minorities from gaining political power commensurate with their proportion of the population.
For example, political scientists Michael Herron and Daniel Smith found that a Republican-passed law to reduce Florida’s early voting from 14 to eight days and eliminate the final Sunday of early voting did indeed reduce voter turnout among non-Republican and minority voters. Other scholars find that Republicans have been proposing and passing stricter voter registration laws that make it harder for minority citizens to vote.
Republicans argue that stricter voter identification laws are needed to combat rampant voter fraud, an idea that studies have repeatedly debunked. Political scientists Desmond King and Rogers Smith revealed that Republicans began emphasizing the threat of voter fraud only after the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which simplified voter registration and significantly increased the number of low-income and minority voters.
Congressional Republicans’ Jan. 6 electoral objections
On Jan. 6, 2021, after the “Stop the Steal” insurrection was quelled, the House of Representatives and Senate held a joint session of Congress to count and certify the electoral college votes for the 2020 presidential election. During this meeting, Republican lawmakers, without evidence, questioned and challenged the validity of the 2020 election. More than half the Republicans in Congress, 146 out of 262, voted to exclude election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, alleging election fraud.
Our analysis focuses on Republicans in the House, where 121 and 138 out of 209 voted against certifying the election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, respectively. In contrast, only eight Senate Republicans supported these objections. We sought to determine why so many House Republicans supported the unsubstantiated voter fraud claims, suspecting that concerns about their own constituents’ racial diversity might motivate them.
To find out, we examined the individual roll-call votes of House Republicans regarding the two electoral objections. (House Democrats unanimously opposed both efforts.) We checked for several factors that might have influenced their decisions: the members’ personal attributes, like race, gender and ideological tendencies, and their districts’ attributes, including its partisan makeup, as well as Trump’s popularity (based on his 2020 vote share) in that district and its proportion of non-White citizens. We then used a regression model to analyze which of these potential influences was most likely to relate to their vote.
GOP members of Congress from racially diverse districts voted against certifying the election
Several things were associated with voting to object to certifying the election results: being highly conservative; representing either a more heavily Republican district or a district that voted more heavily for Trump; and having a more racially diverse district, as measured by the U.S. census.
Among House Republicans who supported at least one of the two objections, the district’s constituents were, on average, at least 19.3 percent non-white. Among House Republicans who did not support the objections, their districts were on average 15.7 percent non-white. That’s a statistically significant difference. The least diverse House Republican congressional district is only 3 percent non-white. A 10 percent increase in non-white citizens increased the likelihood that a Republican legislator objected to the Arizona and Pennsylvania election results by 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
Finally, the most diverse Republican district is approximately 50 percent non-white. When moving from the least to most racially diverse district, House Republicans become 78 percent more likely to support the Arizona objection and 55 percent more likely to support the Pennsylvania objection. Having more non-White citizens in a congressional district made Republican representatives more likely to vote to exclude election results based on alleged election fraud.
Presumably, these Republicans fear that they might lose their seats as the proportion of non-white voters in their own districts increases because, in general, non-White voters tend to support Democrats.
What does this mean for 2022 and beyond?
Trump is still an influential Republican figure and continues pushing the rest of the party to support his false 2020 election fraud allegations. Meanwhile, the United States becomes increasingly racially diverse every day. But these changing demographics, and the Republican effort to suppress minority influence, predates Trump and the 2020 election. No wonder Republicans continue to propose and enact more restrictive voting laws, arguing that they’re needed to prevent election fraud, in states across the country, especially in quickly diversifying ones like Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
In other words, Republican efforts to rouse fears about election integrity are not simply about appeasing Trump. These claims, and related claims of voter fraud, respond to the fact that the United States is ceasing to be overwhelmingly White, which threatens their reelection prospects.
Michael G. Strawbridge (@MjStrawbridge) is a PhD student in political science at Rutgers University.
Richard R. Lau is a distinguished professor in political science at Rutgers University.