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The claim that President Donald Trump won the 2020 election is demonstrably false but, in politics, the “facts” are malleable.

Trump and many of his supporters have continued to perpetuate the falsity by clinging to allegations that have been disproven or dismissed by credible sources — Republican and Democrat. In a few instances, they have latched on to fanciful conspiracy theories.

In West Virginia, as in many parts of Red State America, the stories have stuck. As psychoanalyst Walter Charles Langer said, “People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one, and if you repeat it long enough, people sooner or later will believe it.”

The latest edition of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll found that just 43.75% of the 400 voters questioned believe the results of the 2020 election were legitimate, while 42.5% say the election was rigged. Just under 14 percent are unsure.

As you might expect, the opinions largely break along party lines. Two-thirds (67%) of the Republicans we questioned believe the election outcome was fraudulent, while over two-thirds of Democrats (71%) say the election was legitimate. Independents are more evenly split — about 45% say the election was rigged, while 35% say it was not and 20% are unsure.

Republican skepticism of the election results is shared across the country. A Reuters/Ipsos Poll last April found that 55% of Republicans believe illegal voting or ballot rigging tilted the presidential election toward Joe Biden.

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Republican skepticism of the presidential election started earlier than 2020. A Politico/Morning Consult Poll just prior to the 2016 election found 73% of Republicans believed the election could be stolen from Trump. Remember, part of Trump’s campaign message was that the election could be “rigged” in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The Mueller Report, following a two-year investigation, found that the Russian government used social media and hacked Democrat emails to incite political division here and boost Trump’s election. The report, however, failed to show a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

The Russian interference cast doubts on the outcome of the election, especially among Democrats, and caused some to challenge the legitimacy of Trump’s election. John Lewis, the late Alabama representative and civil rights icon, was among those questioning the outcome.

“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said just before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

Russian meddling, hyperbolic allegations, tribal politics and Trump’s continued insistence on the false allegation that the 2020 election was rigged have eroded our confidence in the election process. The consequences of this mindset are dire.

The health of a democracy is dependent upon the willingness of citizens to actively participate and to accept the legitimacy of the outcome of elections, even when disappointed with the results.

Hoppy Kercheval hosts “Talkline,” on MetroNews.

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