November 27, 2022

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“Delection denial” lurks in US midterm polls, endangering democracies abroad

5 min read

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Election denial, or a refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election, was a key issue ahead of the 2022 United States midterm elections, and analysts said it could spread globally and disrupt democracy.

Scholars and analysts have sounded the alarm that this could downplay the electoral process, a key part of a democratic society, as powerful figures express doubts about a process designed to determine the will of the people.

“Democracy is not just people voting for the winner, but the outcome of that vote being respected by the loser,” Greg Winger, a professor in the University of Cincinnati’s School of International and Public Affairs, told Philstar.com in one online interview.

A Nov. 3 tally by ABC News and Five Thirty Eight showed that 199 Republican candidates out of a total of 552 “completely contested the legitimacy of the 2020 election.”

The candidates claim the presidential seat was “stolen” from former US President Donald Trump, who was running for re-election at the time. They also refused to confirm the results and joined those filing lawsuits to overturn the election results.

Meanwhile, 61 candidates have asked questions about the 2020 election results, 93 have “accepted [them] with reservations”, and 122 candidates either did not comment or did not answer the question directly. Only 77 fully accepted election results.

READ: A year after Capitol riot, Americans fear for their democracy – polls

“[The other issue] is the growing ability in America and other democratic countries for the powerful to insulate them from electoral consequences and enjoy the spoils of power with relative immunity,” William Umphres, who teaches the intersections of law, politics and society at the University of Washington in Cincinnati, informed Philstar.com in an email.

“By undermining electoral systems, they further this goal.”

Candidates who have repeated allegations of cheating that have so far proved unfounded have made it a key message in their campaign paths.

Battleground states with large numbers of conscientious objectors include Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and Georgia.

READ: US Midterms and the ‘Election Deniers’ Threatening Democracy

US Pinoys for Good Governance National President Rodel Rodis said it was a “scary situation”.

“[Trump] made people believe that you can’t trust elections and just accept that he’s the president, and that’s not true,” Rodis said in an interview with Philstar.com.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest at the US Capitol Rotunda on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Protesters breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated voting certification for the 2020 presidential election.

AFP / Saul Loeb, file

Resentment and conspiracy theories surrounding these doubts led to the January 6, 2021 Washington DC riots, in which Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

Winger said the trend could cause the “pillars of society” and public governance around the world to fall apart.

“This has become not just an issue of electoral integrity … but of the legitimacy of the elections, and that then translates into the legitimacy of the governments, and if you then have questions about how legitimate the government is? How do you have legitimacy? of laws? How do you have the legitimacy of rules,” Winger said.

closer to home

Similar doubts were raised in the Philippines’ 2016 national election during Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s election protest against then-Vice President Leni Robredo. The fraud narrative persisted despite the Presidential Electoral Tribunal’s decision that Marcos could not prove his claims.

READ: SC Junks Marcos’ election protest against Robredo

Marcos had repeatedly claimed he was cheated in the 2016 vice presidential election, although he provided no concrete evidence to support such an allegation, and even when a vote recount from Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao counties increased Robredo’s lead from 263,473 to 278,566.

“Promoting this narrative shifts the focus away from his family’s ‘sins’ and also betrays Marcos’ disregard for the rule of law, democratic institutions and processes like elections when the results do not favor him and his family,” said the University of the Filipino political scientist Maria Ela Atienza told Philstar.com.

READ: Asked about abuse of martial law, Marcos questions Amnesty International data

Meanwhile, Umphres argued that “electoral certainty and fairness will become an issue in future elections for the group who believe they were ‘cheated’ last time around”.

Throughout this year’s campaign period, Marcos’ camp and his supporters repeatedly referenced what allegedly happened in 2016 to fuel their drive to seize the presidency. Marcos himself promised to provide backers with coffee so they could stay awake and watch out for a commotion, which backers implied would be evidence of cheating.

“The narrative that he was scammed in the 2016 vice presidential election was just one of the stories that Marcos’ campaign team successfully relayed to voters,” Atienza said, adding that it was part of Marcos’ “huge disinformation machine.”

RELATED: TikTok defends platform amid concerns of political disinformation

Allegations of voter fraud continued into Election Day itself, with his camp claiming without evidence some voters saw a discrepancy in their voting slips showing a vote for Robredo as president instead of Marcos.

Media gives oxygen to denial

Pinny Sheoran, President of the League of Women Voters, noted that the mainstream media played a role in amplifying the narratives of voters, saying, “If you lie often enough, you will trick people into believing that it is the truth.”

“You sometimes give oxygen to things that you might need to pay attention to because you have an obligation to educate the public about the truth,” she told reporters at the International Reporting Tour hosted by the US State Department’s Foreign Press Center on Thursday.

She said published untruths are not “accidents” and should encourage media outlets with engaged audiences to feed the prejudices of their readers and viewers.

“Politicians like Marcos, Trump, [Jair] Bolsonero (Brazil), Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), [among others]quickly realized they could use these channels as a powerful mouthpiece for their misinformation,” he said.

“They also implicitly understood that anger and fear are powerful political motivators.”

At home, Filipino confidence in news rose five percentage points to 37%, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s 2022 Digital News Report. However, trust and interest in individual news brands are declining.

However, a recent poll by private pollster Pulse Asia showed that nearly nine in ten Filipinos believe “fake news” or false narratives is a problem in the country, with 58% of them blaming social media influencers, bloggers, and vloggers.

Despite efforts to curb disinformation through fact-checking and explanatory reporting, journalists still have to enter the hostile waters created by false narratives. — with reports from Agence France Presse, Xave Gregorio and Kristine Joy Patag

This story was made possible by the International Reporting Tour hosted by the US State Department’s Foreign Press Center.

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