How claims of voter fraud were supercharged by bad science

How claims of voter fraud were supercharged by bad science

Messy data and misrepresentations are rife in voting studies. Here’s how those mistakes have helped drive one of the most damaging conspiracy theories in politics.

During the 2016 primary season, Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard had an unusual political strategy. Instead of targeting Republican base voters—the ones who show up for every election—he focused on the intersection of two other groups: people who knew of Donald Trump, and people who had never voted in a primary before. These were both large groups. 

Because of his TV career and ability to court controversy, Trump was already a household name. Meanwhile, about half America’s potential voters, nearly 100 million people, don’t vote in presidential elections, let alone primaries. The overlap between the groups was significant. If Trump could mobilize even a small percentage of those people, he could clinch the nomination, and Braynard was willing to put in the work. 

His strategy, built from polls, research, and studies of voting behavior, focused on two goals in particular. The first was registering, engaging, educating, and turning out non-voters, the largest electoral bloc in the country and one that’s regularly ignored. One recent survey of 12,000 “chronic non-voters” suggests they receive “little to no attention in national political conversations” and remain “a mystery to many institutions.”