The 2020 presidential election has sparked electoral conspiracies across the country, shaping our public perceptions, our discourse and seeping into national and local electoral policy debates – unless we, the voters, choose to put an end to it.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Morgan Carroll’s April 24 op-ed in The Colorado Sun criticizes the Colorado GOP for supporting unverifiable election misinformation, calling on GOP-represented voters to demand that their candidate representatives stand on the side of the truth.
It’s a noble goal, but the reality is much more complex. Understanding the psychological motivations of individuals for forming political beliefs is key to effectively preventing political leaders from promoting disinformation.
claims that the 2020 election was stolen is baseless and detrimental to the well-being of Colorado and United States elections, election administration, and the health of representative democracy generally. Election disinformation should be understood as part of how and why individuals accept information from major parties, and why trust is placed especially leaders.
Misinformation exists because there is an audience ready to receive it, believe it, and act on it. Why is that?
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A social psychology answer boils down to our basic needs as human beings –– survival, relationship and self-esteem needs. These needs shape our beliefs, developed through the experiences, social learning, and information processing conditioned by families, peers, communities, and the media we consume. We are motivated by each other.
Social science research explains how the groups around us create group identification within us, providing a sense of belonging through shared and meaningful social identities. In the United States, our two main political parties create mega-identitiesconsolidating a variety of group identifications into the attitudes, beliefs and policies we support.
Voters use mental shortcuts in their beliefs and behaviors, drawing inspiration from leaders associated with national partisan identities. Humans are motivated to protect their identity and rationalize information to align with previous attitudes and beliefs.
The misinformation voters internalize is shaped by the people and sources we get political information from, led by group leaders. Due to developments in technology and the information market, state elections are often characterized by national party issues.. The most politically engaged have strong identities linked to national parties, giving them social meaning.
A common misconception is that partisan media echo chambers fuel false beliefs, but their influence is exaggerated. In a select, competitive and fragmented media landscape, partisan bubbles are real for a fraction of the most politically active. These voters happen to be receptive to signals that partisan leaders are ready to use. They are the ones who reliably contest the primary elections, creating outsized influence in determining the candidates for the general election.
Misinformation is not always one-sided politically. The Losing “Crying Wolf” Game has a long history of american elections, and will continue to rise in the Colorado primaries and general elections. Carroll’s ability to persuade a Republican with moderately strong party identification, who distrusts the Democratic Party, is unlikely. Simply put, it may not be perceived as credible by someone who leans toward the conservative or who doesn’t know what to believe in the midst of competitive information.
Misinformation and conspiracies have consequences in the form of distrust of government institutions, the media, between supportersand professional public administrators. If we are serious about promoting elections that reward representatives for being seen to be truthful, then Colorado voters should reward leaders who promote specific messages about election administration.
Supporters’ election misinformation beliefs trickle down to candidates by providing inaccurate clues. Colorado’s U.S. Senate GOP primary comes down to Ron Hank and Joe O’Dea. Hanks relies on voter fraud signals, while O’Dea rejected the claimstrying to focus on the real issues that have a real impact on Colorado.
We need voters to support leaders who are willing to bridge bipartisan social identities. This could be endorsed by the Colorado Democratic Party Senator Michael Bennetwho has a relatively moderate balance sheetbut it could also be a candidate, like Joe O’Dea, going against powerful pressure from national parties. It is not only necessary to provide precise information to the public on how robust elections in Colorado are; it ensures that there are leaders who promote accurate information for persuaded voters.
While I understand Carroll’s institutional position, it would be irresponsible to assume that she can represent the public as a whole. In a representative democracy, it is simply not possible, and should not be expected, for a single person to perfectly represent a group of people. Carroll’s attempt to push Republican voters to support Democratic candidates is a godly strategy.
Republican and Unaffiliated Registered Voters can vote in the semi-open GOP primary on June 28 before considering any movement in support of the party. To you, Colorado residents, who are tired of the tumultuous political rhetoric that diverts attention from addressing the real issues that affect Colorado residents every day: now is the time to stop rewarding the candidates representing the loudest partisan fringes.
Colorado voters must vote in the half-open primaries if they want a move toward representation by moderate candidates who don’t passionately endorse election disinformation.
Corey McAuliffe, of Fort Collins, is a graduating master’s student in political science at Colorado State University.
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