Democratic Legitimacy

Posted on November 2, 2016 by


Consistent with the overall tone of the election, the rhetoric coming from both presidential candidates has been tenacious and divisive.  Both candidates vehemently oppose the other ideologically and politically.  This environment engineers the perfect scenario for name calling and the unearthing of as much black mail of their opponent as they can gather.  Clinton has labeled Trump supporters as “deplorables”, receiving back lash from media pundits claiming her statements are insulting to large portions of the population.   While on the other hand, Trump has unabashedly called Mexican migrants rapists and poked fun at the disabled, retorting that his actions were a response to the political correctness that is distracting from the real issues.  All of these statements will no doubt influence the perception the general population has towards each candidate.  Recently however, Trump has not only been openly criticizing politics as usual but the very foundations of the democratic process.


At rallies across the country Trump has proclaimed the election process to be rigged, reducing a potential Clinton win as an indicator that it was a fixed job.   He claims one of the reasons for this bias is the media misconstruing his words and engaging in biased journalism.  He was quoted claiming the election is “one big fix, one big lie” and that media “stories are fabrication and false.”  The mainstream media having bias toward one candidate over the other is a reason for concern, but is in no way indicative of the entire election process being rigged.


According to Trump, due to the election being rigged the American public will have to stay in suspense to whether or not he will accept the results.  Inauguration day will most likely witness a peaceful transition of power; however the disrespect for our institutions compromises their legitimacy.  There are many factors that have held together our democracy including power transition.  When a candidate is declared a winner, the opposition should be able to accept the results without quandary.  However, Trump is challenging this normal progression for the first time in our history.  He claims the election process is illegitimate and should result in aggressive action.  Other politicians have made statements noticing the deep divide in our political system.

“Politics has never been genteel…but generally both parties and their leaders have recognized the legitimacy of the process, and that seems to be fraying,” said Republican Steve Schmidt, top strategist for Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.”

Proposed action from a Trump presidency includes the imprisonment of Hilary Clinton, which he regularly makes references to on the campaign trail and in debates.  Campaigning, his supporters can be heard yelling, “Lock her up”. During the last debate he told Clinton that if he were the president, “you’d be in jail”.  These accusations continue in complete disregard for the legitimacy of her trial.  Whether or not Clinton’s actions violated federal law or not is debatable, however the complete disregard for the system is apparent.

Although both candidates have extreme flaws that in an idealized world a well-informed citizenry would reject.  The self-proclaimed “law and order” candidate fails to consider the validity of the current systems of law.  Many of his statement are inflated to the point of being conspiracy theories with no factual basis.  When Trump calls the election rigged stating that

They even want to try to rig the election at the polling booths. And believe me, there’s a lot going on. Do you ever hear these people? They say there’s nothing going on. People that have died 10 years ago are still voting. Illegal immigrants are voting. I mean, where are the street smarts of some of these politicians? …

So many cities are corrupt, and voter fraud is very, very common.”

He accuses dead people and non-citizens of casting votes, although various researchers studying the subject of voter fraud have found contrary results.  One such example is Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt who wrote in an article for the Washington Post in which he outlined his process of tracking allegations of voter fraud for years, including any “credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix”.  His results showed a total of 31 incidents since 2000 in all elections including general, primary, special, and municipal. This is hardly a number that would sway an election, but considering Trumps penchant for hyperbole, his statements come as no surprise.

The tone of the overall election has been contentious and alienating for many this election season.  However, the statements made by Trump have been especially worrisome.  Trump is challenging the bedrock of our democracy.  Not accepting the results of the election and making claims that the election is rigged may be claims easily disregarded by researchers in the field; however a multitude of supporters for Trump agree with him.  The seriousness of making such claims are incomprehensible to people in the United States who have never had to question their government during a power transition.  It is one thing to read the news and see opposing political parties become militarized after losing an election or threatening the competition with jail or exile.  It is quite another to witness these threats within a full functioning democracy.  These statement may be expected to occur in countries such as Zimbabwe or Cambodia, but are unheard of from a presidential candidate in the United States.


The foundations of democratic rule are founded on many different variables.  Different academic indices including Polity IV and Freedom House, which measure different components of democratic rule include fair elections, inclusive suffrage, freedom of expression, and a peaceful exchange of power.  These measures of democracy should not be taken lightly in order to ensure political stability.  Nor should statement made by politician that could potentially rouse a crowd into action.

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