Have we witnessed an honest primary election?

By Rodolfo Cortes Barragan & Axel Geijsel

As Americans, we want our elections to be fair and transparent. We want to know that when a candidate gets most of the votes, she, he, or they are the person who will be take office. It would hurt us to our core if our right to choose the ones that represent us were violated.

With this in mind, are the outcomes of the 2016 Democratic Party nomination contest completely legitimate? A number of anecdotal and journalistic accounts suggest that this is not the case.

Together with Axel Geijsel, from Tilburg University (The Netherlands), we reasoned that, if anyone were to have ‘rigged’ the elections, it would be most evident by comparing the outcomes of states wherein it is possible to check the legitimacy of the placed votes to the states that cannot provide this evidence. For example, California offers a small ‘receipt’ that is torn off from the voting ballot, while certain other states do not.

What we found is that, on average, states that do not have paper trails were won by Secretary Clinton at a rate of about 65%. In contrast, in the states that do have a paper trail, the Secretary won at a rate of about 49%. These differences were statistically significant.

Stanford Pie Chart

It is possible to object to these results by pointing out that a good chunk of the states without a paper trail are in the South, which is less liberal and has more minorities. According to this perspective, perhaps these factors are the “real” drivers of support for Clinton, rather than the lack of a paper trail.

To address this possibility we “controlled” for these factors, which means that we used standard statistical techniques to isolate the the effect of the presence of a paper trail on support for Clinton. What this analysis showed is that, while the other factors certainly explain some of the support for Secretary Clinton, the potential for fraud is still associated with an edge for the Secretary.

An analysis of the caucus states revealed the same pattern: Caucuses that have been mired in allegations of fraud, namely Iowa and Nevada, are the only caucuses won by Secretary Clinton.

As such, we found that when there are possibilities of electoral fraud, Secretary Clinton wins by a large margin, even when adjusting for possible alternative explanations.

Considering the severity of these suggestions, we welcome any feedback on our analysis, and hope to spark greater awareness of the potential for fraud in American elections. Email cortes@stanford.edu or a.geijsel@tilburguniversity.edu with comments or suggestions.

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Rodolfo Cortes Barragan

Rodolfo is a doctoral candidate in Psychology at Stanford University. His award-winning research has been featured in major outlets, such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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