This post probably isn’t going to make me many friends. Then again, if catering to various echo chambers was my main concern in life, I wouldn’t be running this blog.
So, did Biden win thanks to electoral fraud?
My general impression is that many, if not all, electoral fraud arguments have been rather simplistic and were refuted soon after they were made.
The most infamous one to date is the Biden bump in Wisconsin, which has generated a large number of amusing memes. But according to Kireev’s explanation, this is merely an artifact of the counting process – in Milwaukee, early votes are counted all at once in a central office, not at separate stations as in most of the rest of the state. Milwaukee is a Biden stronghold, hence the net effect is a sharp jump in Biden’s numbers.
The screenshot of the reduction in Trump’s vote share in Michigan was just an editorial mistake at decisiondeskhq.com, which was corrected soon afterwards. In this sense, it is identical to the “146% meme” about the Russian 2011 elections, in reference to the total turnout in Rostov oblast in Rostov oblast. Which was a brief technical mistake on the part of a single TV channel. But ironically, it became the single most popular electoral fraud meme on Runet, despite the multiplicity of concrete statistical evidence of fraud elsewhere.
The fact that mail-in votes, which are counted last in states such as Pennsylvania, lean heavily towards Biden is only natural given that Bidenists “wear a big mask all the time” and Trumpists believe that Corona is “just the flu” (yes, these are exaggerations, but they are accurate partisan stereotypes). The notion that Pennsylvania would start off with a huge Trump lead that would subsequently experience a sharp “blueshift” in the following days was widely expected and predicted before the elections.
Trump’s absurd demand to “STOP THE COUNTING” (capitalized) ignores its selective focus on the Midwestern states, when he needed counting to continue in Arizona to scrape back a win there. This is hilariously illustrated in the following comparison video of Trumpists demanding a stop to the counting in Michigan and a continuation of the counting in Arizona.
Trumpers in Arizona: 'Count the votes!'
Trumpers in Michigan: 'Stop the count!'
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 5, 2020
I am not going to continue with this because other people have addressed this issue much more comprehensively, e.g. see the Twitter thread by Isaac Saul, or the one by rationalist Roko Mijic (who is a Trump supporter):
People are getting desperate and hallucinating signatures of #Election fraud in perfectly normal data. This straight line looks suspicious but really it's just the way the graph is set up – plotting a variable against itself.
— Roko Mijic (@RokoMijicUK) November 5, 2020
What I do want to instead is to make three general points about the likelihood of significant fraud in these elections:
(1) All we have to date is circumstantial evidence, generally quite weak and quickly refuted (see above). Now obviously, in an elections of millions of people, there will be significant fraud, as well as underhanded tactics that fall short of legal fraud but cannot be said to fall within the “spirit” of free and fair elections. It’s also not the case that this is an exclusive Democratic phenomenon, it’s not like Republicans are above such stunts either. Though yes, I do suspect than in net terms, more fraudulent voting is done by the Dems (e.g. see Richman et al., 2014 or Audacious Epigone’s post on illegal immigrant voting). But this is a “background” to American elections in general, not something specific to this one.
Nor am I saying that large-scale voting has never happened or materially impacted American elections. Yes, I’m aware of the 1960 elections and Daley’s hijinks in Chicago. I even blogged about them years ago in my posts on electoral fraud in Russia, when the question of electoral fraud in America was more of a marginal interest than a pressing political issue. But that was 60 years ago. Also, it didn’t materially even alter the overall election result; JFK would have won even without Illinois.
Instead, I want to make a seemingly obvious game theoretical point. In a country with a balance of power between two or more parties, nobody but the most cavalier ideologues are going to stick their necks out for “The Resistance” when they know that there is a high probability that a Trumpist DoJ could subsequently prosecute them. (For that matter, several Chicago poll workers were convicted and went to jail in 1962). To enact large-scale fraud, you need to convince underlings to collude, but this only happens if they can be sure that they will not be put out to grass later. The GOP can’t credibly offer such guarantees, so there won’t be many people rushing to stick out their neck out for Trump. This also works in reverse, which is why back in August, I similarly dismissed Resistance fantasies that the Bad Orange Man will orchestra mass electoral fraud to keep himself in power:
To enact large-scale fraud, you need to convince underlings to collude, but this only happens if they can be sure that they will not be put out to grass later. But GOP can't credibly offer such guarantees, so nobody is going to legally stick out their neck out for Trump.
— 🇷🇺 ANATꙮLY 🤔 KARLIN (@akarlin88) August 12, 2020
Again, this is not to say that small scale fraud will not happen (on both sides). It obviously does. But to have large scale fraud, you need a conspiracy, which is hard because leakage is possible and there is a division of power across all branches of government, including the judiciary. The larger the fraud, the larger the conspiracy. And you also need the conspiracy to be competent. This is outright impossible. Even a reasonably effective and high IQ semi-authoritarian regime such as Russia hasn’t learned how to hide electoral fraud from statistical analysts over 20 years and counting for the banal reason that you can’t expect much in the way of conscientiousness or even intelligence from people who accede to participating in electoral fraud. You people seriously expect that level of competence from… inner city Dems?
Conversely, note also that the 70 million people voted for Trump, and this community contains its significant share of data analysts who are more than capable of running the statistical tests that their Russian counterparts have done to detect large-scale fraud, and broadcasting any incriminating findings not just on Internet blogs and marginal anti-Putin newspapers, but on giant media resources such as Breitbart and FOX News.
Moreover, for this conspiracy to actualize, you also need the participants to have a reasonable expectation of immunity. This is not something that either party in the US can credibly guarantee, unlike a de facto single party state such as Russia; during the Putin era, you can count the prosecutions for electoral fraud on the fingers of one hand. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a carrot in addition to the stick. Amusingly, there is a correlation between the degree of electoral fraud/the size of the “pro-Putin vote” in Russian regions, and the monetary premium “earned” by the directors of regional electoral commissions.
The final point I would like to make is that the results as they come in are in line with what we could reasonably expect from the polls, predictions markets, expert surveys (and actually become more so as votes trickle in for Biden).
The polls may have been off, but they were not off catastrophically. In fact, as Richard Hanania points out, once the final count is in, the total error may be +4 points for Biden (538 had then at +8), which is close to the historical average.
The gamblers, either due to luck or “skin in the game” or innate “wisdom of crowds” or some combination thereof, was closer to the mark. Even so, no market gave Trump more than a 40% chance.
Expert consensus was that this election was Biden’s to lose. This included Russian elections enthusiasts who don’t particularly have a dog in this American fight; their prediction of 290-248 was indeed extremely closely to the market, failing only to capture Georgia.
You don’t need electoral fraud to explain results that were expected by pollsters, modelers, and gamblers outside the MAGA bubble.
Nor, in the big picture, is there anything much amiss in the big picture. While the polls were worse than usual on the crucial Midwestern states – though the undershoot partially rights itself as mail-in ballots are counted – there aren’t really any smoking guns in comparison with the 2016 elections.
In 2016, Trump won Iowa by 9.4% and Ohio by 8.1%, respectively; this compares with a margin of 8.2% and 8.1% today, respectively; that is, more or less the same, especially after adjusting that both states still need to count ~10% of the remaining votes. On the other hand, Minnesota, which HRC only won by 1.7%, went 7.1% or more (4% remaining) to Biden. Trump won Wisconsin by a narrow 0.8% in 2016, and lost it by a similarly narrow 0.6% (2% remaining) now. Michigan: 0.2% to Trump in 2016, a rather decisive 2.6% to Biden now. Pennsylvania: 0.7% to Trump in 2016, now marginally in favor of Biden with 5% left to be counted. One way of looking at it is that Trump was simply “lucky” in 2016, winning the crucial states of PA/WI/MI by <1%, and unlucky in 2020, losing those same states by higher though still modest margins. It is however completely consistent with polling that showed Biden enjoying a much stronger lead in the polls relative to HRC, which was not canceled out by a commensurate increase in the numbers of “shy” Trump voters**.
Trump screwed IMO, HRC was leading by 4% in Mich & Penns, 5% in Wisc in 2016, Trump scraped all those states by margin of <1%. He's now trailing Biden 7% in Penn/Wisc & 8% in Mich. Can't imagine the share of "shy" Trump voters has doubled since, and debates are as good as over.
— 🇷🇺 ANATꙮLY 🤔 KARLIN (@akarlin88) October 9, 2020
Now in fairness, one significant point that fraud claimers can make is that even if the phenomenon is modest in scale in the US, it can still be sufficient to overturn the results of elections given the peculiarities of its election system, in which outcomes are sometimes decided by a few hundred votes in a key state. But while valid for some elections – most notably, 2000 – it is most certainly not the case during this election, where even a reversal of the Georgia and Pennsylvania results will not be sufficient to give Trump victory.
In a way, this hysteria over electoral fraud can be considered to be the capstone to a pattern of accelerating MAGA cope in the past year. So far as the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic goes, the signature achievement of the Trump administration has nothing to do with suppressing or containing it, but shifting the blame over to China, with a number of weird and mutually contradictory conspiracy theories being advanced that China “hid” the scope of its epidemic, imposed “totalitarian” measures to contain it, and/or failed to contain it altogether. Mocking Biden for “wearing a big mask” and then getting blessed by Corona-chan literally the day after was certainly a powerful move. But my all time favorite is dismissing Biden as a dementia patient, which I was already describing as a cope months ago (when so far as reality was concerned, e.g. performance in the debates, he was anything but). But the funniest thing about it is the incredible self-own that this implies if they were actually correct on Biden’s ailments. So, you mean to say that Blompf lost an incumbency Presidency to a vegetable? Do you then mean to imply that had he faced a normally functioning opponent, the margins would have exceeded Nate Silver’s wildest fantasies?
I am not saying all this to be cruel – after all, I endorsed Trump myself. What I am hinting at, though, is that Trump’s chances of a successful legal challenge are close to zero, while /pol/-liberal horseshoe style fantasies of him declaring martial law and proclaiming himself the Living Constitution are just that – fantasies (let’s start with the fact that ~70% of the officer corps are Dem). He is already being deserted by GOP… heavyweights such as Christie, as well as media outlets like the NY Post, which was shilling Bannon’s kompromat on Hunter Biden just two weeks beforehand. I doubt this will last more than two weeks before Trump throws in the towel. At that point, MAGA supporters will have to reckon with reality and try to figure out what went wrong. The Biden administration will face formidable challenges and is likely to be highly unpopular, spurned not just by the populist Right but by the Chapo Left. This creates space for a MAGA agenda to reenter power come 2024, hopefully under a more adequate champion.
In the meantime, all things considered, the fact that Biden’s narrow victory is dogged by suspicions of electoral fraud that probably 20-30% of Americans earnestly believe is in many ways actually a good thing.
(1) Obviously, in the short-term, it offers a longshot path for Trump to scrape back victory through legal challenges. I think the chances of this happening are minimal (<1%), but whatever.
(2) From an American perspective, Republican control of the Senate means that the Dems have limited scope to carry out grandiose economic and social experiments. Which I doubt Biden is much interested in anyway. (Incidentally, the idea that Biden or Copmala is in any way a “socialist” is yet another far-fetched MAGA fantasy… just ask the folks at Chapo Trap House). The idea that he came to power via fraud will not be quite enough to delegitimize the Biden Presidency – it’s not like George W. Bush’s narrow and contested victory over Al Gore in Florida remained much of an issue after a couple of months – but it certainly wouldn’t hurt Republicans to have that as an additional rhetorical tool.
(3) Most consequentially, this substantially discredits American soft power and its “democracy promotion” efforts.
For instance, a Biden Presidency will not have much of a rhetorical leg to stand on a Nuland in its State Department try to wheedle a color revolution out of the 2024 Russian Presidential election, because for every example of this that they cart out:
… the Russians – no matter how flawed the comparison – will still be able to rejoinder with this:
… and so far as most impartial observers are concerned this will be a pithy and not illegitimate, if admittedly “whataboutist”, rebuttal.
Naturally, this doesn’t apply only to Russia, but to other potential targets of America’s color revolution machine, which is likely to be reinvigorated under a Biden administration. I suspect social media discussions in places such as China and Iran mirror those in Russia, where the Trumpist narrative of Democratic electoral fraud has a firm foothold in public discussions. Conversely, Russian Westernists such as Maxim Kats are being mocked for their continued insistence that there is no electoral fraud in America. This makes it harder for such people to make political or cultural inroads.
Translation: You don’t understand – this is different.
(AK: Context – refers to the tendency of Russian libs to criticize certain aspects of Russian society, culture, and foreign policy that they perceive as negative, while denying, excusing, or rationalizing analogous phenomena in the West).
Best of all, this is a wound that the American journalistic-Big Tech complex has largely inflicted on itself through its own elitist hubris. The major news networks have cut off Trump’s speeches as soon as he started to imply that states like Michigan and Georgia were being stolen from him. Even though I had the impression that Trump was bumbling nonsense, I was far more annoyed with their arrogance and presumption at not allowing me to hear out POTUS. This would apply tenfold to actual MAGA people relative to a moderately sympathetic Russian observer such as myself.
Twitter, Facebook, and the other social media giants have engaged in heavy-handed censorship, wiping out posts, undermining coordination amongst Trump supporters (e.g. Facebook banning the 360,000 member “Stop the Steal” group), and adding intrusive disclaimers to Facebook and Twitter posts that are alleged to be spreading “disinformation”. Even if they’re factually correct right a lot of the time on this particular issue, it comes off as something more typical of a ham-fisted dictatorship and serves to further radicalize the MAGA people who believe they had their voices stolen (not to even mention more radical subgroups such as the Qanonists, who must be interpreting this as a nationwide takeover by Satanic pedophiles).
It also flagrantly exposes the double standards imposed by Big Tech, which has so very conveniently decided to take a bold, uncompromising stance on Republican electoral fraud conspiracies while having not just okayed but actively promoted at least equally absurd “Russiagate” conspiracies on how Putler put the Bad Orange Man in power with $100,000 of Facebook ads spending and an alcoholic called Olga from Perm.
So yes, MAGA cope is cringe. But it’s also a spanner in the neocon agenda. So trust the plan and love live MAGA cope!
* Incidentally, though, this method is a poisoned chalice, because it provides false signals and compliance with electoral fraud may collapse during a regime crisis in which the opposition is seen to gain an upper hand. But this is another discussion.
** These observations do suggest that some things can be improved upon. In particular, at least amongst the less outspoken “Hajnal”-descended denizens of the Midwest, polls have proven just as ineffective for identifying out “shy” Trump voters as in 2016, suggesting a systemic problem. Though solutions for resolving this issue of wheedling out “controversial” opinions do exist, such as list experiments (they have confirmed the genuinely high popularity of Putin in Russia). Perhaps polling companies could look at using more of these sophisticated polls in the future in regions where there are many “polite” people who are hesitant about expressing socially “unacceptable” opinions. It should also be noted that the contest genuinely was closer than expected; this is something that was not captured by the polls, but was strongly identified by the gamblers, who gave Trump 30-40%. “Experts” should stop being so cavalier in dismissing people who have “skin in the game”, despite their own admitted failures (e.g. France in 2017, when they gave MLP a real chance of victory).