In order to appreciate the extent to which Trump and his administration remain obsessed with his victory, we have to go back to October of 2016. During the third presidential debate, then-candidate Donald Trump refused to say whether or not he would accept the outcome of the election if he lost.
Trump went on to win the election by securing the majority of Electoral College votes (306 to 232), though he lost the popular vote by nearly three million (2,865,075). Trump and his administration have since made numerous false claims that his Electoral College victory was a landslide. According to his transition team:
The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again’.
On November 27th, Trump posted on Twitter:
The next day, Kellyanne Conway, now Counselor to the President, followed up with:
In reality, the facts, along with this graphic from PolitiFact, tell a very different story.
According to PolitiFact:
This chart makes it clear that Trump’s percentage doesn’t rank near the top. In fact, it ranks near the bottom, belonging somewhere between the lowest one-fourth and the lowest one-fifth of all Electoral College victories in history.
Trump’s repeated claims that he would have won the popular vote if not for widespread voter fraud are equally without merit (FactCheck.org, The New York Times, Snopes). He seems to be basing his opinion on two things:
- A bizarre and implausible anecdote about a German golfer.
- The Twitter account of a Texas businessman named Gregg Phillips.
When pressed for actual facts, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer erroneously cited data “that came out of Pew in 2008 that showed 14 percent of people who voted were non-citizens.” During an interview with ABC’s David Muir, Trump again cited the Pew study, recommending that Muir contact the author. Muir had already spoken with the author of the study who reiterated that it showed no evidence of voter fraud.
That’s inaccurate on multiple counts: There is a study that found that 14 percent of noncitizens voted, but it’s not from Pew, it didn’t come out in 2008 and it has been widely debunked — including by members of the survey team on which the study is based.
The problem is the underlying study is wrong. Brian Schaffner, a political science professor and one of the coordinators of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, explained in POLITICO in November that the authors of the study were misusing the dataset. Specifically, they weren’t accounting for measurement error (small errors in the data that result when respondents make mistakes because they didn’t understand the question or accidentally selected the wrong answer) in their results. Once they did so, their findings disappeared. “In fact, once my colleagues and I accounted for that error,” Schaffner wrote, “we found that there were essentially zero non-citizens who voted in recent elections.”
Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law professor, reached a similar conclusion when he confirmed only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of billions of ballots — and he believes that some of those 31 are actually technical or clerical errors. (The Washington Post has a story outlining nine separate voter fraud investigations, all of which turned up virtually nothing.)
Trump’s response has been to spend taxpayer money on a “major investigation.”
During his interview with David Muir the next day, Trump again emphasized that he equated multi-state registration with fraud:
You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states. They’re registered in a New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.
Should Trump move forward with an investigation, he will find that many of the people closest to him are registered to vote in multiple states:
- Gregg Phillips (the Texan Trump considers to be a fraud expert) is registered to vote in multiple states.
- Steven Mnuchin (Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury) is registered to vote in both New York and California.
- Stephen Bannon (Trump’s Chief Strategist) was registered to vote in both New York and Florida at the time he cast his vote for Trump last year.
- Press Secretary Sean Spicer is registered to vote in Virginia and Rhode Island.
- Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and now White House Adviser, is registered in both New Jersey and New York.
- Tiffany Trump (Trump’s daughter) is registered to vote in both Pennsylvania and New York.