Dartmouth Researchers: Fraud Not Shown in 2016 Voting Data

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, December 02, 2016

Hanover — After studying the 2016 presidential election results, researchers at Dartmouth College say that Donald Trump’s claims of widespread electoral fraud are not supported by voting data.

The president-elect said during the campaign, and after he won, that the election had been “rigged” against him, advancing several different theories that the Dartmouth scholars addressed in a 13,000-word working paper released this week.

The authors, assistant professor of government Sean Westwood, professor of government Michael Herron and post-doctoral fellow David Cottrell, said they had been inspired to do the study when Trump started to make his claims of fraud during the campaign.

The objective, they said, was to evaluate the integrity of the American election system as multiple states contemplate recounts and as Trump continues to attack the results.

“I think that knowing that your vote matters is important to election legitimacy and important to democracy,” Cottrell said in a telephone interview on Friday. “If you do not feel that your vote matters or that your participation matters in the election, then the democratic value that the government is run by the people is severed — is lost.”

Cottrell and the other authors emphasized, however, that their research was not meant to act as proof that there had not been any fraud.

Instead, they said, it was a test of the hypothesis that there was widespread fraud — not including isolated incidents.

“And our results do not find evidence of that,” Cottrell said.

The researchers approached the election results county by county, applying in-depth statistical analysis to find the widespread trends of the election.

Trump, it appears from initial results, garnered newfound support among white, working-class voters, especially those without college degrees. Clinton failed to turn out millions of votes that Obama received in 2012, although, the researchers noted, it is unclear to what degree Obama voters switched parties or simply didn’t turn out.

The Dartmouth scholars used this “rationalization” of the election, as they called it, as a model to compare against Trump’s various claims of fraud.

The president-elect has made numerous accusations, including that dead people and noncitizens voted in droves, none of which were borne out by the data.

In regions where vote totals for Trump or Clinton showed spikes or dips, the researchers found that the difference was better explained by the wider demographic trends that led Trump to victory.

Westwood and Cottrell on Friday recognized that Trump made his claims without any evidence, and that some people had believed them anyway.

“There is a non-trivial group of Americans who are convinced that fraud exists and who dismiss evidence to the contrary as an elitist conspiracy against the right,” Westwood said in an email. “We will never persuade those people. Our work is targeted at a much larger group: those who are alarmed by the claims of the president elect and who want to know if the election was honest.

“Our results do not imply that there was no fraud at all in the 2016 presidential contest, nor do they imply that this contest was error-free. They do strongly suggest, however, that voter fraud concerns fomented and espoused by the Trump campaign are not grounded in any observable features of the 2016 presidential election.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.