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Midterm results show voters reject election denialism

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We learned a lot from the 2022 midterms. Abortion access matters to voters, Florida might not be a swing state anymore, and election denialism is not a winning strategy. NPR's Miles Parks covers voting, and he's been reporting on that last point a whole lot in the last two weeks since voting ended. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. Good morning.

MARTIN: Nice to see you in studio. So we know some pretty high-profile candidates who denied the 2020 election results - they actually lost their races this year - Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Kari Lake in Arizona. But you have a new analysis out that shows these kinds of candidates did especially bad in races to control elections, right?

PARKS: Right. So I've been really interested in monitoring secretary of state races all across the country, because they're really the clearest question of how voters feel about election conspiracies. Do you want a person in charge of voting in your state who spews lies about the 2020 election, right? And voters overwhelmingly said no specifically to that question. Our analysis found that election deniers consistently underperformed other Republicans on the ballot in all of these races and in competitive states.

MARTIN: Although these are down-ballot races, right? Isn't normal for these candidates to get fewer votes?

PARKS: It is, right. But this is actually where it gets really interesting because Republicans who did not deny the 2020 election results did not see the same drop off in support. So we looked at seven different swing states. In the five races where there was an election denier running as the nominee for one of these positions, they got on average about 93% of the votes of the top vote-getter at the top of the ballot. But in the two states, Georgia and Colorado, where there wasn't an election denier running for secretary of state, those candidates ran neck and neck with the top vote-getters. In Georgia, for instance, Brad Raffensperger, you know, of the 2020 fame, won his reelection by about nine percentage points. And his opponent Bee Nguyen told NPR's Michel Martin that he was really hard to beat specifically because he did not deny the election results.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BEE NGUYEN: We also had a larger challenge in Georgia, running against incumbents who were not seen as extremist to Georgia voters. And so going up against that is obviously an uphill battle.

PARKS: We also saw Democrats pour money into helping election deniers win primaries in some places earlier this year because it's clear that they felt like these candidates were beatable, and they turned out they were right.

MARTIN: Right. Very controversial at the time and turned out to have been a winning strategy for Democrats, at least. So has this proven to the GOP that supporting candidates who do not support the integrity of our election system is not a winning strategy?

PARKS: In a normal situation, I think you would assume so. The data here is pretty clear. But the shadow of Donald Trump still plays a big role here. He's the leader of the Republican Party. He has already announced that he's running in 2024, and he has continued for the past two years to keep pushing these narratives around a stolen election. So you have to expect many candidates in the Republican Party will still parrot these stolen election narratives to try to win primaries. It's a winning strategy with base voters, but it's clear that it does not translate to the broader electorate. I talked about that with Trey Grayson, who's a former Republican secretary of state of Kentucky.

TREY GRAYSON: Voters sent a pretty loud message about election denialism. The voters took that information, processed it, said, we reject those candidates. We're going to reward the candidates who will do their jobs, who will follow the law.

PARKS: After looking at our data analysis of these races, Grayson told me a lot of these swing states - they should have been shoo-in for Republicans based on the political climate that we've been talking about all year - inflation, the first midterm of Biden's presidency. But my party, he said - we didn't nominate the right people.

MARTIN: NPR's Miles Parks. Miles, thanks for this. We appreciate it.

PARKS: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks
Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.