One of the most important jobs of a public opinion pollster is to tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Unfortunately, in most media commentary today, both supporters and opponents of President Trump are being told only what they want to hear.
With this in mind, I would like to offer the following reality check.
Supporters of President Trump need to be told that the election is over. Most of the president’s supporters have accepted that reality, but a significant minority has not. They may not like the truth, but former Vice President Joe Biden is now the President-elect and will be inaugurated on January 20. There is no Constitutional, legal, or political process that can change that outcome.
Accepting the reality that Biden won is not a form of betrayal or a sign of weakness. It is simply an acknowledgment of where things stand today.
I understand the anger and disappointment that millions of Trump supporters feel. I felt it firsthand in angry responses throughout the campaign when my polling and commentary suggested a Biden victory was the most likely outcome. I saw it in the data where large numbers of Trump voters ignored the warning signs and were confident that the president would be re-elected.
Rather than being misled to believe that there is still a path to re-election victory for President Trump, these voters should be encouraged to channel their energy in a more productive manner. One very productive direction would be devoting energy on a state-by-state basis to reform election procedures prior to the 2022 elections. Polling I conducted in Pennsylvania showed strong bi-partisan support for significant reforms.
But Trump supporters are not the only ones in need of a reality check.
The strongest Trump opponents are gleeful at the visible disappointment and reaction of Trump’s strongest supporters. Far too many still believe that Hillary Clinton was right to call them deplorable and their media outlets are promoting the idea that the failure to trust the election results is unprecedented.
In reality, the response of Trump supporters following the 2020 election has much in common with the response of Clinton supporters following the 2016 election.
In both 2016 and 2020, fans of the losing candidate never took seriously the possibility that their team might lose. When the votes were counted and the unthinkable happened, an overriding belief quickly developed that the other candidate could not have won without cheating. That led to a conviction among many on the losing side that the winner was not legitimately elected.
Following the Clinton campaign, Democrats talked of impeaching the president even before he took office. And they repeatedly believed that the next bit of breaking news was going to provide the evidence needed to remove the president from office. But that news never came because the evidence did not exist. Still, four years later, the losing candidate herself claimed that Donald Trump was not a legitimate president.
Understanding that we have had two presidential elections in a row where the losers believe they were cheated out of victory should instill a great desire to rebuild confidence in our electoral process. Seeing this reality would help Biden voters channel their energy in a more effective manner.
Recognizing the need to reform our processes of voting and counting the ballots is not the same as agreeing with those who believe the 2020 election was stolen. It is simply an acknowledgment that governments derive their only just power from the consent of the governed. If voters do not trust the process through which elected officials are elected, the government itself will have no legitimacy.
Despite our current troubles, I remain optimistic about America’s future. Our political system is badly broken, and things may get worse before they get better. But, as I wrote in my recent column for the Deseret News, a new generation of leaders is coming soon. The most influential of them will recognize that their job is not to change America. It is to change American politics so that our government can follow where the culture is leading.