The Long Shadow of The Big Lie: How Beliefs about the Legitimacy of the 2020 Election Spill Over onto Future Elections
Has the “big lie”—the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump—shaped citizens views about the legitimacy of U.S. elections more generally? We argue that for 2020 election deniers, all elections are now suspect. While all voters think elections are less legitimate when their preferred candidate loses, this effect will be especially large for 2020 election deniers: accepting Trump’s fraud argument gives them a mechanism to explain away the loss. Using an original panel dataset spanning the 2020 and 2022 elections, we show strong support for our hypotheses. Indeed, we show that the big lie is so potent that it is more consequential for views of the legitimacy of the 2022 election than voting for a winning or losing candidate, the key factor identified by earlier studies. These effects have important implications for our understanding of elections, and perceptions of their legitimacy, moving forward.