Skepticism

Study: Republican Voters Don’t Punish Fascism

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Here in the United States, we’ve been dealing with a slight infestation of, well, fascists. In case you missed it, our former president, Donald Trump, was just indicted for the fourth time, facing a total of 91 criminal charges. Many of those charges are related to his actions in allegedly trying to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to Joe Biden. It’s not a surprise that he tried to do that, because he told us all he would, repeatedly, before the election even started. He has always been anti-democratic, and that just became clearer and clearer as he desperately tried to hold onto power.

This leads to a tiny little problem: we live in a democracy, so presumably as long as the majority of people want to keep that democracy going, we are protected from fascism, right? We can just choose to not vote fascists into office. Right?

Ahem.

House Republicans were rewarded for supporting Donald Trump’s ‘stop the steal’ efforts,” claims a study published this month in my favorite journal, PNAS. God dammit, you guys, I thought we all agreed we wanted a democracy! Let’s dig in.

The study authors note that a few previous analyses have found that maybe Republican congress critters who made statements suggesting that Trump actually won the election did sliiiiiightly worse in the midterms. But they wanted to try a more comprehensive overview looking at the politicians who actually took actions to help Trump steal the election, in the form of four Congressional votes – one to “decertify” votes on January 6th for Arizona voters, one to do the same to Pennsylvania voters, one to not impeach Trump the following week, and one to block the investigation of the January 6th insurrection.

They looked at all the Republicans who voted to, basically, throw democracy in the trash, to see if they were “punished” by voters in the midterms compared to the politicians who voted to uphold democracy. And what they found was that there was no difference between the two when it came to the general election – the fascists did no better and no worse than the others. But they also found that the fascists “were less likely to lose primary elections, more likely to run unopposed in the general election, more likely to run for higher office, and less likely to retire from politics.”

So yeah, that sucks.

But, does it mean that Republican voters hate democracy? Not necessarily! Like, yeah, some of them absolutely do. No question. But in my opinion, this study doesn’t actually tell us that, as they write, “voters are not reliable guardians of democratic norms.” Why? Because we don’t actually live in a democracy.

I’ll give you a minute to recover from that. Yeah, I lied earlier when I said “we live in a democracy.” We don’t. And I’m not talking about some gotcha question on your 6th grade social studies test where you’re supposed to know that “well aaaactually the United States is a CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC.” No, I mean that even the most basic definition of democracy includes several features that are distinctly lacking in the United States, where an individual’s vote does not necessarily matter, where corporations are seen to have rights and liberties equivalent to people, and where a minority of religious extremists holds a disproportionate amount of power and uses that power to remove rights from others.

For instance, let’s talk about gerrymandering. In the US, voters are organized into districts, with each district voting for their own representative. But it’s the representatives who are in charge of determining the boundaries of the districts. “Gerrymandering” is when they draw those boundaries in ways that benefit them and their political party, by, for instance, putting all the Democrat voters in one place to reduce their votes’ impact in other places, or by spreading them out so that they’re diluted by their Republican neighbors. It is literally a way to make one person’s vote count less than another person’s vote. It is anti-Democratic.

Just last month, another PNAS study looked at this very topic. Political scientists at Yale and Harvard teamed up to create nonpartisan redistricting maps across the US according to the laws and regulations of each state, and they compared those maps to the ones drawn by Congress in 2020. They found that their fairer maps would give the Democrats two extra seats in the House of Representatives – not a huge amount, but that’s probably because Democrats are gerrymandering, too, which is not good! On a local level, the problem is absolutely horrible, but because Republicans are just slightly better at it than Democrats, they end up with that slight advantage.

The authors found “widespread partisan effects,” writing that “Many states have enacted districting plans with partisan biases that decrease electoral competitiveness and responsiveness, limiting the voter’s ability to hold politicians accountable.”

They also point out that their “fair” map might not even actually be truly fair, because they had to follow the rules of each state, which differ from one another in ways that, who knows? MIGHT BE UNFAIR.

So yeah. Gerrymandering. One reason why your vote may count less than your neighbor’s vote. And even if the candidate you vote for actually does win, gerrymandering is one reason why that politician may be less likely to follow through on their promises or listen to your opinion or, you know, actually represent you the way they would be expected to in a representative democracy. They’re now maybe more likely to represent the corporations and special interest groups who are paying them a lot of money.

In fact, did you know that 90% of congresspeople in the House of Representatives out-spent their opponents in the general election? And did you know that thanks to the 2010 “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, corporations can donate money to candidates who will support legislation that favors them?

This report from the Center for Political Accountability was published in 2020 and specifically warned about corporations funneling nearly a billion dollars into politicians to hamstring climate change and antidiscrimination efforts and, oh yeah, to gerrymander districts, “diluting Black

and Brown voters’ power at the ballot box” and strengthening Republican strangleholds.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying there aren’t Republican voters out there who genuinely would like to do away with democracy if it means we get dictator Trump in power. But they aren’t the majority of the US population, and they’re not even the majority of US voters (only about 60% of Americans who can vote do vote, which is another huge, ongoing problem for our democracy).

And of those fascist-supporting Republicans, are we really able to say they’re making a free and fair decision to vote for these politicians? Can we say that when the most-watched news network in the country is Fox News with 2.2 million primetime viewers? A network that settled a lawsuit for $787 million because with reckless disregard for the truth, they repeatedly told those viewers that the voting machines were rigged to give Donald Trump’s votes to Joe Biden?

No, those viewers aren’t tied to chairs with toothpicks in their eyelids forced to watch this garbage, but let’s be honest, one way or another our society has failed these people. Our parents, our schools, our government didn’t give them the education and the critical thinking skills and the resources to see through obvious lies, and we’re all suffering because of it. Democracy is suffering because of it.

I guess what I’m saying is that in a way, I do sort of agree with the study I started off this video talking about: “voters are not reliable guardians of democratic norms.” Because they can’t be, right now. The deck is stacked against us. We can and should vote as hard as we can, and we can call and bully our representatives into representing us, but at the end of the day it’s going to take those representatives to finally grow a spine, or a sense of morality, for true, meaningful change.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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