This report provides an analysis of election deniers’ performance in the 2021-2022 midterm cycle and the implications of this performance for future elections. We proceed with a definition of “election deniers” as the term is used in this report, and describe a novel dataset of election deniers used to draw our conclusions. This analysis suggests that, contrary to some speculation that the movement’s strength is waning within the Republican Party, election denial remains a serious and influential fixture of the Republican Party. Specifically, we show that:
- Republican election deniers do more than spout conspiracy theories and have already demonstrated a series of policy objectives they are poised to achieve in many states. The vast majority of election deniers in this analysis took at least some concrete form of action that made a material contribution to January 6th, the narrative of the Big Lie, or both. These actions include voting against certifying the 2020 elector slate in Congress or in their home state, signing on to plans to send fraudulent electors from their state to be certified (or serving as such an elector themselves), or attending the protests on Capitol Hill on January 6
- Republican election deniers did not only seek high-profile statewide offices that would give them control of the machinery of elections, but won seats in state legislatures and Congressional delegations across the country. A narrative is emerging that voters have successfully “rejected” the “election deniers running to take over elections” because of the high-profile failures of election deniers such as Mark Finchem, Doug Mastriano, and others to win their races. Our results urge caution in this area. Election deniers have won hundreds of seats in state legislatures across the country, virtually all in states where the legislature has at least some authority and a veto pivot over most of the state’s election processes. The vast majority of Congressional election deniers who voted to decertify 2020 won their re-elections (including 124 of the 132 Congressional Republicans in our dataset who ran for re-election or ran for another office elsewhere, all but 3 of whom have either won re-election or won the office they sought).
- Republican election deniers overwhelmingly ran in “safe red” districts, and a majority ran in “red” states, suggesting they have a safe vantage point from which to steer the party in the future. About 80 percent of election deniers in our data ran in districts Trump would have carried by more than 10 percentage points had the districts been drawn as they were in the 2021-2022 cycle, and about 65 percent of election deniers ran in districts Trump would have carried by more than 20 percentage points. While Republicans contested districts across the range of competitiveness in the 2021-2022 cycle, Republican election deniers specifically concentrated in very red areas, including whiter and more rural parts of battleground and red states.
- The scale of the intra-party debate over the election denier movement is overstated. While it is widely supposed that “GOP insiders” have material objections to the election denier movements, we find little evidence of this in practice. In a supplemental analysis that combines primary endorsement data gathered by FiveThirtyEight with our own measures of candidate characteristics, we find dozens of cases where Donald Trump was willing to endorse a candidate who did not materially support his own views about the 2020 election outcome, and we find that with or without his endorsement the vast majority of election deniers were successful in their primary and general elections.
- Democrats have few pickup opportunities in election denier districts barring a significant effort to appeal to rural voters who currently support Republicans. In a supplemental analysis of the types of districts where election deniers ran unopposed or virtually unopposed in the 2021-2022 cycle, we find that these districts are disproportionately drawn in rural, Republican-leaning areas.
In this analysis, “election deniers” are candidates identified in Public Wise’s Insurrection Index project as having some played material role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, were in the DLCC’s Republican Insurrectionists database, or were identified in Media Matters for America’s QAnon supporters running for Congress list. There is considerable overlap between sources in this analysis. Each source identifies its own universe of candidates and, naturally, arrives at slightly different quantites both from each other and from our own analysis. This analysis focuses on candidates who
- Were present on at least one of these lists
- Ran for a federal office (such as the US Senate or the US House), statewide office (such as Governor or Secretary of State), or state legislature office (such as State Senate, Assembly, or State House of Representatives) in the 2021-2022 cycle or will do so in the 2022-2023 cycle in the state legislatures that hold their elections outside of the normal cycle
- Ran as a Republican, rather than with a third party (as far as we can tell, no sources used here identified any Democratic election denier candidates, and no third party election denier candidates exceded 10 percent of the vote in any primary or general election in which they ran)
- Ran as a “serious candidate,” measured by elementary factors including having a website and at least some form of mainstream social media presence (such as a Facebook page or Twitter account)
In total, this includes 779 election deniers, 527 of whom advanced from their primaries into the November 8, 2022 general election or into a special election that will be tabulated at a later date, 389 of whom ran in contested general elections, 252 of whom won their elections.
Considering all the seats that were contested on the November 8, 2022 ballot, this is a small share of Republicans. Election deniers won about 10 percent of the federal, statewide, and state legislature elections that Republicans won overall (about 2,500 seats nationwide at some level of federal or state government). Despite this, our data suggests the election denier movement is well positioned to exert significant influence over the GOP for the foreseeable future, has already demonstrated a willingness to do so above and beyond public blustering and conspiracy theorizing, and has received material support from the mainstream party apparatus to a degree suggesting any perceived rifts in the party over election integrity are not emerging in the party’s general campaign efforts.
Republican election deniers were present on the November 8, 2022 general election ballot in forty-three states, and our data suggests election deniers will be present on the ballot in all four states whose state legislature elections occur in 2023. The following chart breaks down the prevalence of election denier candidates by state in the 2021-2022 election cycle.
While election deniers such as Lee Zeldin (New York governorship) and Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania governorship) ran high-profile and well-funded failed races in the 2021-2022, the vast majority of election denier candidates ran for state legislature seats. In particular, a large number of Pennsylvania Republican election deniers who previously schemed to send false electors to Congress in 2020 and similar clusters of election deniers who ran for state legislature seats in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma together constitute much of the sample.
Across the full sample, fully 393 election deniers were state lower chamber (State Assembly or State House of Representative) candidates who supported an effort to overturn their state’s electoral college results, such as the “Maricopa audit” scheme or the Pennsylvania false elector slate, 116 state upper chamber (State Senate) candidates who did the same, 117 US House candidates who voted against certifying the 2020 election result, and 13 US Senate candidates who did the same. The following chart breaks down the share of election denier candidates from each state who materially supported overturning the 2020 election result.
The following chart breaks down the share of election deniers who won and lost their primaries in each of the states in our sample. There are no states in the sample where the Republican Party outright rejected a large share of election denier candidates. In states where more election deniers were kept off the ballot, more of them were running. In Pennsylvania, for example, 9 of the 37 election deniers who lost their primaries lost to another election denier. Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming all saw relatively large shares of their state legislature delegations support the Big Lie. Election denial generally has more fertile ground in “safer” districts, rather than in swing or unfriendly races.
There is considerable variation in what type of office election deniers sought across states. For example, of Florida’s election denier slate, only one of its 16 candidates ran for a state house seat, while in most states the majority of election deniers sought a seat in the state leiglsature. In contrast, 14 of its 16 deniers were Congressmen who voted against certification, and one Senator who did the same (Rick Scott). Similarly, in Texas, 15 of Texas’s 21 election deniers were Congressmen who voted against certification, just 3 ran for state house seats, and just 3 ran for state senate seats. Further analysis of these states’ electoral contexts is needed to understand why some have a large candidate pipeline for election deniers, and some have few or none in their delegations.
For a considerable share of candidates on either side of this movement, their primary was their final challenge to holding office. Of the statewide, general election races at the federal, statewide, or state legislature, Democrats did not contest about 12 percent of the seats Republican candidates sought. (Typically, Republicans fail to contest a similar share, resulting in 20-30 percent of all elections in the United States going uncontested in any given general election) Election deniers were greatly overrepresented in this set of seats, with fully 22 percent of election deniers matriculating from their primary into an uncontested general election.
Our results advise caution on the subject of contesting these seats. Using precinct level election results from 2020 and redistricting files in states where they are available, we assigned the districts in this analysis an approximate Republican lean defined as that district’s aggregated precinct-level Trump share of the 2020 general election vote minus Biden’s vote share. These results approximate an answer to the hypothetical question of “how would the 2020 election results look in these districts, if the only thing that changed from 2020 to 2022 was the structure of the legislative maps used in the election?” These results are not dispositive of either actual 2022 results or hypothetical 2024 results, but they give us a general sense of districts’ “underlying partisanship” without having to rely on the circular logic of the actual 2021-2022 results as we observe them.
The following chart plots the number of Republican candidates running unopposed by their district’s “underlying partisan lean,” where a higher value represents a more pro-Trump or Republican-friendly district. These results suggest that Republican election deniers overwhelmingly ran in safer districts. Democrats left few “swing districts” against election deniers on the table in 2021-2022 compared to the much larger share of very safe Republican districts where both election deniers and non-deniers ended up running unopposed. While some political science research suggests uncontested candidates are “weaker than suspected” as their constituents grow disconnected from their only voting option and incumbents, in turn, grow more disconnected from their constituents’ preferences, we urge further research that will likely require a granular approach to this question. Some voters are inevitably perfectly satisfied with the safe incumbents in their districts.
The left pane of this chart includes counts of election denier Republican candidates running in any district, contested or not, and the right pane of this chart includes the same for non-election denier Republican candidates. The comparatively wide distribution of the blue bars shows that while Republicans contest elections across the full range of underlying partisan preferences, election denier Republicans overwhelmingly run for office in districts that Donald Trump would hypothetically have won by large margins.
The election deniers running in more competitive and even safe districts were disproportionately “insurgent candidates” rather than incumbents, and virtually all of them lost in 2022. Of the fifteen election deniers who ran in districts that Trump would have statistically tied or lost, five were incumbents – New Mexico 2nd House district candidate Yvette Herrell, Michigan state house 103th district candidate Jack O’Malley, Pennsylvania state house 26th district candidate Tim Hennessey, Pennsylvania 137th house district candidate Joe Emrick, and Pennsylvania state senate 24th district candidate Tracy Pennycuick. Three of those incumbents – Yvette Herrell, Jack O’Malley, and Tim Hennessey – have narrowly lost re-election, while Joe Emrick and Tracy Pennycuick won re-election.
On the other hand, all ten of the non-incumbent election deniers running in districts Trump would have lost have lost as well. Nine of the ten were included in our dataset as “QAnon disinformation spreaders,” and one – Sandy Smith, who ran for North Carolina’s 1st US House distric – attended January 6th, among other issues that likely impeded in her campaign in a district in which she was already at a statistical disadvantage. Election deniers running for office in more competitive areas, especially those who weren’t incumbents to begin with, were unsuccessful.
Prospects for next cycle
There are about two dozen election deniers currently holding office who will be running in districts Trump hypothetically would have carried by fewer than ten percentage points in the coming election cycle in 2023-2024. Notably, these candidates are not overwhelmingly entering office in “red states.” This cycle, election deniers won races in “narrow Trump districts” in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, and will have to hold those seats in an election with the Presidency on the ballot. Future research on the subject of running against election deniers in the 2023-2024 cycle should carefully consider these state contexts. For example, there is growing speculation that the Virginia governor’s mansion will be vacated in the next couple of years, possibly posing new opportunities for gains against election deniers in Virginia.
|State||Chamber||District||Republican||Approx 2022 %||Approx Trump Margin|
|CO||US House||3||Lauren Boebert||50%||+8|
|FL||US House||21||Brian Mast||64%||+9|
|GA||State Senate||48||Shawn Still||57%||+3|
|MO||State House||31||Dan Stacy||57%||+8|
|MO||State House||94||Jim Murphy||57%||+6|
|MO||State House||101||Bruce DeGroot||53%||-1|
|NC||US House||9||Richard Hudson||57%||+8|
|NJ||US House||2||Jeff Van Drew||61%||+5|
|NY||US House||11||Nicole Malliotakis||62%||+8|
|PA||US House||10||Scott Perry||54%||+4|
|PA||State House||41||Brett Miller||76%||+5|
|PA||State House||44||Valerie Gaydos||55%||+3|
|PA||State House||120||Aaron Kaufer||66%||+8|
|PA||State House||137||Joseph Emrick||51%||-1|
|PA||State Senate||40||Rosemary Brown||55%||+0|
|PA||State Senate||16||Patrick Browne||55%||+7|
|PA||State Senate||24||Tracy Pennycuick||52%||0|
|VA||US House||1||Robert Wittman||57%||+7|
|VA||US House||5||Bob Good||58%||+8|
|WI||US House||1||Derrick Van Orden||54%||+2|
|WI||US House||3||Scott Fitzgerald||52%||+5|
Our data suggest the 2023 “off-cycle” elections will be challenging for Democrats seeking to unseat election deniers. In the states that have state legislative elections in 2023 – Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia, of which Louisiana and Virginia are virtually certain to field relatively large shares of election deniers – the election deniers who are likely to be on the ballot have a large underlying partisan advantage in the districts where they will be running.
The following table includes the election deniers who are currently set to be on the 2023 ballot in these off-year states. Of this list, only three election deniers – Marie March, in Virginia’s 7th state house district, Ronnie Campbell, in Virginia’s 24th state house district, and Glenn Davis, in Virginia’s 84th state house district – are running in districts Trump would be projected to lose.
The election deniers running for office in the 2022-2023 general election in the Louisiana state legislature overwhelmingly represent the rural parts of the state. An exploration of the current Louisiana district maps suggests that these districts are among Louisiana’s spatially largest, i.e., with the lowest population density and highest share of rural inhabitants.
|State||Chamber||District||Republican||Approx Trump %||Election denier|
|LA||State House||1||Danny McCormick||+47||Election denier|
|LA||State House||5||Alan Seabaugh||+46||Election denier|
|LA||State House||8||Raymond Crews||+47||Election denier|
|LA||State House||9||Dodie Horton||+43||Election denier|
|LA||State House||13||Jack McFarland||+40||Election denier|
|LA||State House||14||Michael Echols||+48||Election denier|
|LA||State House||15||Foy Gadberry||+78||Election denier|
|LA||State House||24||Rodney Schamerhorn||+76||Election denier|
|LA||State House||30||Charles Owen||+43||Election denier|
|LA||State House||37||Romero Troy||+53||Election denier|
|LA||State House||38||Rhonda Butler||+50||Election denier|
|LA||State House||39||Julie Emerson||+32||Election denier|
|LA||State House||41||Phillip DeVillier||+56||Election denier|
|LA||State House||49||Blake Miguez||+66||Election denier|
|LA||State House||51||Beryl Amedee||+46||Election denier|
|LA||State House||54||Joe Orgeron||+79||Election denier|
|LA||State House||59||Tony Bacala||+41||Election denier|
|LA||State House||64||Valarie Hodges||+73||Election denier|
|LA||State House||66||Richmond Edmonds||+41||Election denier|
|LA||State House||74||Larry Frieman||+63||Election denier|
|LA||State House||76||Robert Owen||+26||Election denier|
|LA||State House||88||Kathy Edmonston||+57||Election denier|
|LA||State House||95||Sherman Mack||+65||Election denier|
|LA||State House||103||Ray Garofalo||+28||Election denier|
|LA||State Senate||1||Sharon Hewitt||+35||Election denier|
|LA||State Senate||12||Beth Sherman Mizell||+44||Election denier|
|LA||State Senate||28||Heather Cloud||+48||Election denier|
|LA||State Senate||33||Stewart Cathey||+51||Election denier|
|LA||State Senate||35||Jay Morris||+61||Election denier|
|VA||State House||7||Marie March||-45||Election denier|
|VA||State House||24||Ronnie Campbell||-31||Election denier|
|VA||State House||33||Dave LaRock||+45||Election denier|
|VA||State House||56||John McGuire||+18||Election denier|
|VA||State House||84||Glenn Davis||-16||Election denier|
The Party’s reaction
There has been much speculation about how much of the election denier movement’s entry into the Republican Party represents a “reckoning” for the GOP. It is widely believed that the forces behind the Big Lie remain ascendant within the GOP, while others believe its decline has begun.
Our analysis urges Democrats not to be optimistic on this subject. Though election deniers as measured here are a small share of office-holding Republicans overall, they disproportionately represent very safe districts where they are likely to enjoy long careers if they so desire. They hold office in an advantageous mixture of swing states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania, as well as in states that currently favor Republicans like Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. From a “traditional party organization” standpoint, this suggests the election denier movement will hold seats long enough to gain leadership positions in state parties and the national party, as well as additional leverage over the party in Congress even absent a formal seniority system. Our data establishes that most of these election deniers are already entering their second term, or more. Election denial is often characterized as an outsider insurgency. Our data does not support this view.
We provide one additional comment on this subject using endorsement data tracked by FiveThirtyEight. By merging this dataset into our own candidate data, we can assess the severity of the intra-party divisions over candidates when it comes to endorsements by prominent figures such as Donald Trump. FiveThirtyEight tracked whether Donald Trump made an endorsement in a US House primary, including on what date the endorsement was made. We combined this data with our election denier dataset to see whether Trump preferred to only support candidates who have endorsed or acted on behalf of the Big Lie in some capacity.
Within that subset of all candidates, FiveThirtyEight’s data suggest Trump does not require candidates to support or act on behalf of the Big Lie in order to earn his endorsement. Trump clearly prefers to endorse candidates who endorse the Big Lie – 84 of the 134 endorsements he made that we could match to our own records, or about two-thirds, went to election deniers. But his remaining endorsements – 50 in total, or about one-third of his total endorsements – went to candidates who do not qualify by the criteria used in this analysis. Additionally, 24 election deniers in our data apparently failed to secure a Trump endorsement this cycle. (A further 33 candidates, including seven election deniers and 26 non-election deniers, ran in races where an endorsement would apparently be superfluous such as in states where an uncontested candidate does not receive votes in the primary) In other words, while Trump prefers supporters of the Big Lie, he made fifty endorsements to candidates we would not classify as such. From this, we urge Democrats to understand that not all the election denial in the Republican candidate pool is associated with public fanfare from popular figures like Donald Trump.
The Democratic party has work to do to unseat the election denier movement, which is currently likely to persist and expand in future GOP primaries and in general elections over the course of the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 election cycles. While high profile candidates failed to win statewide races in key states, claims that the movement failed to secure political power this cycle are optimistic. The election denier movement includes hundreds of successful (and safe) Republican incumbents in key states across the country.
These incumbents disproportionately hold office in areas where the electorate is composed of key demographic groups with whom Democrats have struggled in recent years. Most obviously, these candidates represent more Republican-leaning areas in more rural parts of states where the rural vote is a vital part of any winning coalition. The following chart shows where election deniers will hold office at the Congressional and state legislature levels next cycle according to our data. Generally speaking, rural areas are generally more likely to be represented by election deniers than other types of places.
We urge practitioners not to conflate “rural” with “white,” which would be an especially costly error in this specific domain. Prior polling suggests that the types of conspiracies peddled by election deniers are appealing to Black and Latino voters, as well as younger and lower-income voters who comprise core constituencies Democrats must connect with in order to win in these areas in the future. This conflation would also be unwise because Democrats’ economic messages are widely appealing to Black, Latino, and white rural voters alike and so there is no reason to campaign in these areas as if just one racial or ethnic group is of concern. Several successful campaigns in the 2021-2022 cycle discussed the value of “running up the margins” in rural areas by all means possible, and we urge creativity with this objective in mind.
Why did some state Republican parties generally reject election election deniers? State Republican parties in very red states like Utah produced no election denier state legislature candidates this cycle, and state Republican parties in very blue states like Massachsuetts produced no election deniers at all. While partisanship provides a safe environment for the movement to thrive, we have no evidence to suggest underlying partisanship is dispositive of a potential pool of election denier candidates. Very rural states with strong political divides such as Illinois and Maine also failed to produce many election denier candidates, and the institutional factors associated with these outcomes need further study. We suspect there are key components of the local party organizations as well as broadly shared values among these sorts of states’ conservative voters which should be explored and understood. Some recent research focuses on the link between belief in QAnon conspiracy theories and in Christian nationalism, particularly its eschatology, and we urge more qualitative and quantitative efforts to understand the connection between these phenomena.
What makes for a weak, untested incumbent? A large share of the candidates studied here will walk into office unopposed, in rural areas typically taken for granted by the Republican Party, in areas where the Democratic Party is declining or dormant. Some research suggests that candidates who run in such districts are “lower quality” along a variety of dimensions than their peers who face more competitive elections, though the relationship between this tendency and public opinion is not yet well understood. Because of the particular demography and geography of election denial, establishing this link is important to anyone seeking to effectively challenge this element of the Republican Party. Some fairly recent work on status threat, wherein an apparent threat from some political force has the unintended effect of mobilizing its opposition, may be relevant here. This cycle, voters faced pro-Big Lie vigilantes waving guns outside courthouses and near to ballot dropoff boxes. It is possible these highly (and, surely, deliberately) ubiquitous threats to voters have a motivating effect that could end up working to the Big Lie’s disadvantage.
On its current trajectory, election denial is a fixture within the future of the Republican Party. The movement holds a comfortable number of seats in areas Republicans tend to take for granted, and includes in its ranks increasingly senior membership in the state parties and in the national party.
Election deniers do more than talk. Hundreds of election deniers have taken concrete actions to attempt to change election outcomes, and hundreds of these candidates will be in offices where they have authority to continue doing so for the rest of their careers. It is important both for the integrity of the Republic and for the ability of Democrats to compete in many parts of many states to learn how to counter these candidates.
Our results suggest several promising avenues on this question. There are vulnerable Republican election deniers on the ballot in the coming 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 election cycles. Those who do not currently appear vulnerable may become so if public awareness and alarm over their unpopular actions and beliefs stay in the national conversation. Democrats have not yet devised a message that will ensure this is the case, but made strides over the course of this cycle that should be studied and expanded upon.
Past polling from organizations like Rural Organizing show these candidates’ constituents respond favorably to much of the Democratic agenda. Election denier conspiracy theories themselves are overwhelmingly unpopular nationally, and so it is no surprise many of these candidates have learned to reframe their beliefs as “election security” policies. Election security itself is much more popular across the political spectrum. Gaining control of this element of the narrative will be crucial to Democrats’ future in this area.
Republicans’ generally disastrous performance in the 2022 midterm elections will prompt questions from outside and from within on what sort of political party the GOP wants to be in the future. Our data suggests it will have a difficult time expelling its election denier component any time in the near future, but there are surely Republicans who can be convinced to try. Building and advancing a public narrative that illustrates the problems within the GOP will help the party reach a necessary reckoning, and highlight the superior alternative with better things to offer to its current supporters.
Appendix A: Data sources
The dataset of election deniers, publicly available here, is assembled from three sources: * The Insurrection Index, maintained by several organizations including Public Wise * The Republican Insurrectionists list, maintained by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee * Media Matters’ records of QAnon candidates participating in the 2021-2022 midterms
The dataset of vote totals used in this analysis were compiled from two public sources: * The Washington Post’s Midterm election race monitor * Ballotpedia.org
The dataset of endorsements used in the supplemental analysis to this report were compiled by FiveThirtyEight and downlaoded by the authors from their Github repo
The precinct level 2020 election approximations were developed by Dave’s Redistricting App and the Voting and Election Science Team.
This report’s authors have no affiliation with these organizations. Matt Hildreth is Director of Rural Organizing. In this capacity, John Ray is an independent consultant.
Appendix B: Uncontested geographies
This appendix provides a full list of the approximate geographies where election deniers ran unopposed in the 2021-2022 general election. Though “rurality” is an inexact measurement, we strongly recommend further research on this subject consider the overrepresentation of rural voters in this sample.
|State||County||N election deniers running unopposed|
Please contact Matt Hildreth and John Ray for replication files associated with this project.