Did ACORN Steal the Election?

by John Sides on November 19, 2009 · 9 comments

in Public opinion

A new PPP poll finds that 49% of McCain voters think that ACORN stole the election for Obama. 20% of McCain voters are not sure. Only 31% think that he legitimately won the election. By comparison, 93% of Obama voters believe that he legitimately won the election.

Let’s first acknowledge that this is one poll, with one question wording. The pollster in question, PPP, uses interactive voice response (aka robo-calls), which generate lower response rates than standard polls. A reasonable question, then, is whether this small self-selected sample is—even with sample weighting—skewed towards the kind of politically engaged citizens who are more likely to think and act as partisan or ideologues.

Second, let’s put this finding in some degree of context by considering opinions after the 2000 presidential election. In various polls, we see similarly large divisions among Bush and Gore supporters about the fairness of the process, whether the Supreme Court had partisan motives, who the real winner would have been under a full recount, etc.

Perhaps most relevant is this question from a December 2000 Newsweek poll: “”Will you consider Bush to be a legitimate president, or not?”

Nearly all Republicans (97%) said yes, as compared to 56% of Democrats. Forty percent of Democrats said no.

I am not suggesting that the 2000 controversy and the PPP question about ACORN are equivalent, of course. I just wanted to show that partisans of both stripes can be disgruntled after an election—leaving aside the relative merits of their cause, the empirical basis for their beliefs, etc.

The bigger question is whether suggesting that a president is “illegitimate” has any real consequence. Democratic voters didn’t rebel against Bush after 2000. Indeed, they rallied to his side for a brief time after September 11th.

Moreover, the kinds of Democrats and Republicans who consider an opposition President to be illegitimate—strong partisans, for the most part—would be unlikely to support that President’s policies or vote for him in 4 years even if their doubts about his legitimacy were removed.

We can also question the causal status of suspicions of ACORN. It’s entirely possible that opposition to Obama makes people more likely to suspect ACORN —rather than the other way around. So dispelling this suspicion wouldn’t make anyone support Obama.

Finally, we have to be careful in imputing some tangible political consequence to the responses that respondents give to a PPP robo-call. Simply stating a suspicion doesn’t imply that people will act one it. Moreover, there is a ritualistic quality to this sort of discontent that makes its true impact difficult to discern.


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: