The ‘Sore Loser Effect’: How Rejecting Election Results Can Destabilize Democracy And Drive Terrorism

This text is a part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s dwelling for opinion and information evaluation. It first appeared at The Conversation.

An attendee at an October 2021 political rally hosted by right-wing activist Charlie Kirk requested: “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?

The attendee was referring to the baseless allegation that Joe Biden stole the 2020 U.S. presidential election and that he unfairly denied Donald Trump reelection.

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Kirk, CEO of Turning Level USA, condemned the question. However one 12 months after the Capitol rebellion that was fueled by Trump’s claims of a rigged election, Kirk, different commentators and politicians – and, in fact, Trump himself – proceed to gas false beliefs of widespread election fraud. Embrace of the “Big Lie” that Trump actually gained the election has turn into an article of faith for many Republican politicians. It’s also widely believed by conservative Americans; in an October, 2021 ballot, 60% of Republicans mentioned the 2020 presidential election outcomes ought to undoubtedly or in all probability be overturned.

This creates a probably harmful state of affairs for the USA. Acceptance of electoral defeat, one thing political scientists name “loser’s consent,” is crucial for stability and order in democracies.

Rioters crowded inside the Capitol building during the insurrection.
New analysis exhibits that when shedding politicians refuse to just accept election outcomes, home terrorism will increase. Roberto Sshmidt/AFP via Getty Images

‘Sore losers’ can drive terrorism

Democracy is based on a compact: Election losers agree to just accept the outcomes and encourage their supporters to do the identical.

In trade, losing politicians get an opportunity to run, and win, in a future election.

Nevertheless, loser’s consent is fragile. And when it’s damaged the chance of political violence will increase. In a recent study I published, I conclude that when election losers in democracies reject election outcomes, turning into “sore losers,” belief in political establishments is eroded, political polarization and tribalism grows and distrust thrives.

This produces a state of affairs the place political violence is now not seen as taboo, significantly amongst supporters of the shedding political social gathering. My analysis exhibits that when shedding politicians in democracies refuse to just accept election outcomes, residents start to see terrorism as extra acceptable and domestic terrorism increases.

Right here within the U.S., outrage over the Big Lie helped fuel the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. It has additionally pushed home terrorism plots.


For instance, federal authorities announced charges in July towards two males who planned to bomb the California Democratic Party headquarters. The two males have been radicalized by the Huge Lie and expressed hope on social media that the assault would “start a movement that could keep former President Donald J. Trump in office.”

A dark hallway in the US Capitol building, with workers in white jumpsuits cleaning up damage.
The day after the U.S. Capitol was stormed, staff start to wash up the particles and harm estimated at $2.5 million. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Understanding the info

In my examine I examined home terrorist assault knowledge in over 100 democracies from 1970 to 2018. I additionally checked out public opinion on whether or not individuals view using terrorism as justifiable in 30 democratic nations from 2017 to 2020. I based mostly my definition of home terrorism on the one utilized by the Global Terrorism Database. Lastly, I used data to measure whether or not politicians who misplaced latest nationwide elections in democracies refused to just accept the outcomes. I restricted my evaluation to democracies that have been free from electoral irregularities.

I additionally accounted for different elements which may make home terrorism extra widespread or acceptable in my analyses. These embrace the nation’s financial state, ethnic range and political violence historical past, in addition to the federal government’s energy and stability.

For public opinion on terrorism, I weighed the consequences of things such because the age, gender, revenue, schooling degree, political ideology and non secular and ethnic identification of the survey respondent and the quantity of terrorism within the nation over the earlier three years.

When contested outcomes result in violence

Here’s what I discovered.

First, when shedding political events in democracies reject election outcomes, home terrorism will increase and will get extra intense. By how a lot relies on what number of, and what forms of, political events have been sore losers.

Nations the place all political events, together with the losers, accepted the election outcomes skilled just one home assault about each two years. Nevertheless, nations the place one of many most important political events misplaced the election however refused to just accept the official outcomes – the state of affairs most like what the U.S. presently faces – subsequently skilled round 5 home terrorist assaults per 12 months. Lastly, nations the place all shedding political events rejected the election outcomes subsequently skilled greater than 10 home terrorist assaults per 12 months.

Second, the sore-loser impact additionally boosts acceptance of terrorism. Solely round 9% of residents of democracies the place all shedding events accepted election outcomes regard terrorism as justifiable habits. This proportion elevated to round 27% in democracies the place the primary, shedding opposition social gathering or events rejected the election – the class most approximating the USA after the 2020 election. Lastly, round a 3rd of residents in democracies the place all shedding events rejected election outcomes additionally tolerated terrorism as a tactic.

These outcomes present that when politicians refuse to just accept a free and honest democratic election’s consequence, and as a substitute select to advertise a well-liked narrative of a stolen or soiled election, they place their individuals in bodily hazard. Well-liked tolerance for terrorism grows, and so does terrorist exercise itself.

James Piazza is a liberal arts professor of political science at Penn State.

This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.

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