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Dems Can’t Run Against the Big Lie in 2022

Trump-Biden voters don't really care about how Republicans keep lying about the 2020 election.
by Rich Thau
June 21, 2021
Dems Can’t Run Against the Big Lie in 2022
Crowds arrive for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Here’s a scenario to ponder: It’s October 2022 and a Democratic congressional candidate is running ads showing the Republican candidate questioning whether Joe Biden actually won the 2020 election. The Republican candidate, meanwhile, is running ads talking about the problems happening on Biden’s and the Democrats’ watch: inflation, unemployment, crime, the southern border, etc.

In that context, would Trump-to-Biden swing voters choose the Democrat or the Republican candidate?

I asked this question of 13 such swing voters on June 8 in two online focus groups. Two were Democrats; six were Republicans; five were independents. All were from among the most competitive 2020 swing states.

Ten of the 13 basically said they’d vote for the Republican candidate in that scenario.

“I tend to vote based on the issues, and if the information this Republican is presenting is factually accurate, and the economy is tanking, and we have all these other issues, then the Democrats aren’t working out. Let’s vote differently,” said Holly, 52, a Democrat from Norcross, Georgia.

David, 55, an independent from Dallas, agreed: “If that’s the only thing the Democratic candidate is running on, I’m going to vote against him. . . . He’s got to have some type of substance to be running, rather than just what the other guy said.”

Farah, a 44-year-old Republican from Atlanta, said, “That’s the only thing you have going was that [the election] was stolen? Come up with some other reasons why I should vote for you.” She added, “Republicans have more solid ground to stand on if that’s the case.”

I pressured respondents on this issue by explicitly asking, “You’re willing to vote for a Republican who said the 2020 election was stolen?” Many affirmed their positions and downplayed the relevance of the “Big Lie” as an important factor in their choice of candidate.

Diane, 50, an Independent from Scottsdale, Arizona, acknowledged, “I know that statement is false [about the election being stolen], but coming from a Republican candidate, that’s also not a surprise. So I’m not ready to use that as something I would base my vote on.”

Sean, a 26-year-old Democrat from nearby Tempe, said, “I don’t think it’s relevant because [the 2020 election by that point] is two years past now, it’s already done. . . . This is what it is, we’re going to move forward.”

Chris, a Republican from Gilbert, Arizona, was the only participant in his group who emphatically said he would vote for the hypothetical Democrat in 2022. In a very animated fashion, he asked the other respondents in the group directly, “Would you guys vote for a person that said that this last election was a fraud? Would you vote for that person in 2022?” The rest of the group’s answer was yes.

Some Democrats think it’s important to endlessly highlight Republicans’ Trump-animated doubts about the 2020 election results—to make them toxic to voters in the way that Republicans hung AOC and “defund the police” around Democratic candidates in previous elections. But it seems possible that this strategy won’t work in this direction, in this coming election.

One strategy the Democrats may have more success with is a focus on the creation of a January 6 commission. Ten of the 13 participants said they generally support the creation of a formal commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Chris said, “I want public hearings against public officials that were actually complicit in not preparing the defenses appropriately.” He worried that without the commission, “the DOJ is only going to prosecute the civilians that breached the gate, they are not going to prosecute one member in the public space [who was] responsible.”

Kelli, 41, a Republican from Maitland, Florida, said, “I want to know who, why, how, what. And then anyone responsible needs to be held accountable, because how are we supposed to stop these things from happening again in the future if we don’t have more information?”

The majority of the 10 supporters of the commission shared Kelli’s sentiment, hoping to prevent any future attacks that threaten our country.

“If you got somebody attacking your country,” said William, 27, an independent from Grand Rapids, Michigan, “you definitely want to figure out where these attacks are coming from, and really get to the bottom of it . . . so that we can be safe without attacks.”

Jessyca, a 35-year-old from Apopka, Florida, agreed: “If we don’t address it and it happens again, we’re allowing the bad behavior to continue. . . . It should be used as an example so it discourages anyone from trying to do something that stupid again in the future because they’ll see the severity of the consequences now.”

Participants who did not support the creation of the commission questioned how effective it would actually be.

David, the Dallas independent, said, “What have their formal commissions done? The one on the Russian commission, that did nothing. . . . Just prosecute these people, put them in jail, and end it.”

Tanya, 45, a Republican from Naples, Florida, echoed David’s feelings when she said, “I just think it’s a waste of time and money.”

In short, the marching orders from Trump-Biden voters sound like this: Congress, please create a January 6 commission so nothing like this happens again. But if you Congressional Republicans remain squarely focused on present day concerns—no matter what you said about 2020—we’ll consider voting for you in 2022 if Democrats appear obsessed with the past.

Aaron Witkin contributed to this piece.

Rich Thau

Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group.