PHOENIX — President Donald Trump has refused to say he’d accept the results of the election in the event that he loses, and in the closing days of the race, some of his supporters have taken his faulty or unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud to heart.
At a packed outdoor rally in this battleground state Wednesday, Trump said the polls that show him trailing the Democratic nominee Joe Biden are “fake,” drawing boos from the crowd and raising their expectations of victory. He also said he feared voter fraud, which studies have repeatedly found to be extremely rare, and in most cases nonexistent.
“The biggest problem we have is if they cheat with the ballots. That's my biggest problem,” he told supporters at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport this week. “That's my only thing — that's the only thing I worry about.”
Followers are echoing his claims.
If the president loses, “I think it will be complete voter fraud,” Tammy Byler, 54, an operations manager in Waddell, Arizona, said. “There’s so much voter fraud happening.”
Byler, who said she follows QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory, expressed confidence that Trump would win the popular and the electoral vote. She said she doesn’t believe he could legitimately get fewer votes than his opponent. “Let’s look at the crowds,” she said. “Joe Biden barely gets any.”
The sprouting seeds of doubt point to a major challenge for Biden if he gets elected and seeks to unify the country. No major U.S. presidential candidate has ever refused to accept an election outcome. Rejecting its legitimacy based on faulty theories wouldn’t change the result — states certify results, and Trump lacks the authority to stop them — but it could further split a divided nation.
“It scares me to death,” said Biden supporter Jim Bower, 62, of Glendale, Arizona, that Trump might “drag this out” well past Election Day and try to delegitimize the result if he loses.
Biden has said he would accept the result even if Trump wins. Many of the Democrat's supporters, like Bower, agree.
“If [Trump] wins, he wins,” Bower said, before joking that if that happens, “my wife and I are moving!”
Some Trump supporters echoed incorrect or evidence-free claims made by the president recently, such as that ballots are going out that omit just Trump’s name (not true, according to PolitiFact) or being sold (no evidence for this claim) or being dumped in a river (not accurate).
“I think that there would be foul play” if Biden is declared the winner, said Jamie Kobyluck, 58, of Phoenix, who said she has already cast her absentee vote for Trump.
“If you look at pictures of the different rallies — Biden’s and Trump’s — it’s such a discrepancy. How could he have that many voters?” she said.
Biden’s rallies have been sparse and heavily socially distanced as he seeks to avoid facilitating the spread of the coronavirus, which continues to claim lives and limit economic potential. Trump has taken a different approach, packing his supporters into small spaces at concert-like rallies like the one in the Phoenix area.
Biden leads by 8.2 points in the NBC News national polling average. He also leads in most swing states likely to decide the election, albeit narrowly in some. Forecasters widely agree that he is currently the favorite but don’t entirely discount Trump’s chances of an upset.
“I don't believe the polls will be wrong. But I will accept the results of this election should the will of the voters be different than what we hope for,” Steven Slugocki, the chairman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, said at Biden's running mate Kamala Harris’ rally in Phoenix.
Some Trump backers say that life would go on if he loses.
“What choice do I have?” shrugged Jeana Caywood of Saratoga, New York, who hails from Arizona and attended Trump’s rally here Wednesday while visiting.
“It’s not gonna change anything. The election will be the election,” she said. “I’m not gonna walk around angry. Not worth it.”