Nikki Haley defies Trump's call to exit race, says, "I don't do what he tells me to do."
Nikki Haley defies Trump's call to exit race, says, "I don't do what he tells me to do." File Photo | AP

US elections: Haley's supporters believe radically different things to Trump; where do they go next?

Recent polling suggests people who voted for Trump are much more likely to believe that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president than voters for Trump’s Republican rival, Nikki Haley.

Eliza BechtoldUniversity of Aberdeen

Republican primaries are shedding light on how voters perceive the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election as president in 2020. The attitudes being revealed may shape the 2024 presidential race as well as the future of American democracy.

Recent polling suggests people who voted for Trump are much more likely to believe that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president than voters for Trump’s Republican rival, Nikki Haley.

Entrance poll results from the Iowa primary revealed that 69% of the voters who did not believe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election supported Trump. In contrast, 53% of Republican voters who believe Biden’s presidency is legitimate supported Haley.

Ahead of the South Carolina primary on February 24, other polling suggests that 57% of Republican voters believe Biden’s presidency is illegitimate, and 85% of those voters support Trump. Some 70% of those who believe Biden won the election “fair and square” support Haley.

According to recent national polling, 32% of Americans, and 63% of Republicans, continue to believe the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen by Biden and the Democrats. Importantly, these beliefs persist, although the 2020 election was one of the most secure in US history with no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Meanwhile, former President Trump, the probable Republican nominee for the 2024 election, continues to push the big lie as a key part of his campaign.

The US Supreme Court has long emphasised the importance of freedom of speech and of the media in ensuring that the government is responsive to the will of the people.

The court views an informed populace as “the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment”. These principles “ensure the security of the Republic” and are the very foundation of constitutional government.

It is important not to overstate the significance of polls, but they may be revealing something important about what the American public is thinking in the lead up to the 2024 election.

And whatever is being revealed directly relates to the fundamental principles highlighted by the Supreme Court. Namely, voting patterns and recent polls imply that a significant portion of Republican voters distrust the American electoral system and continue to believe the Democrats “stole” the 2020 election.

Of particular concern is the question of how the American public can hold a leader to account when that leader is lying to them about the integrity of their democracy, and, significantly, so many believe him.

Trump is leading Haley in the polls and is regarded as the presumptive Republican nominee. This is a matter of grave concern for those who believe in the foundational principles of American democracy, and its institutions, and are worried about creeping authoritarianism.

For instance, one poll suggests that nearly half of Republicans want a leader who is willing to break some rules “if that’s what it takes to set things right”, and that 23% of all Americans believe that there is a need to resort to violence “in order to save our country.”

What happens next?

Trump’s de facto leadership of the Republican Party was evident in his instrumental role in persuading Republican representatives not to back a recent bipartisan immigration and foreign aid bill, which included aid for Ukraine and tougher controls at the Mexican border.

This forced Democrats to strip Ukraine aid out into a separate bill, which has now passed the Senate. The bill’s fate in the House, however, remains uncertain due to Trump loyalists.

Trump’s intervention came after months of good-faith negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. Indeed, Republicans would have gained much of what they sought in terms of border security reforms. It is reasonable to assume that Trump’s influence over the party will continue to increase in the run-up to the 2024 election.

Trump faces 91 felony charges (some of which relate to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election) and civil liability for sexual assault and defamation, all of which he denies.

However, these challenges have not reduced his popularity among the Republican base. We also know from recent polling that Republicans are now more sympathetic to those who participated in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, than they were three years ago. They are also more likely to absolve Trump of responsibility relating to the attack.

If Trump’s status changes from presumptive to actual Republican nominee, the question will be whether Haley supporters will shift their allegiance to Trump (despite some radically different beliefs), choose a third party candidate, choose Biden or simply decide not to vote. The decisions of Haley supporters may have significant consequences not only for the 2024 election, but also for the health of American democracy.

For these reasons, the differences between Trump and Haley voters and why they matter warrant much more attention.

Eliza Bechtold, Lecturer, School of Law, University of Aberdeen

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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