Americans Are Sort Of OK With Foreign Election Meddling*

Michael Tomz and Jessica Weeks, a pair of political scientists, recently did a bit of research to find out what people thought about foreign election interference. They surveyed several thousand people, giving them different scenarios for foreign meddling (endorsements, contributions, hacking into voting systems) and asked what they thought about each of them. Here are the basic results:

This is odd. “Stay Out” means what it sounds like: in this scenario the foreign country did nothing. And yet, 5 percent of the respondents disapproved. On the other end, 10 percent of the respondents were OK even if a country hacked our election machines to change the vote count.

What the hell? Is this for real, or just some kind of mistake? Here’s another question:

A full 18 percent of the respondents supported economic sanctions against a country that did nothing. This is nuts. What could account for it? Maybe this:

*Disapproval levels were strongly partisan: large numbers of both Democrats and Republicans were OK with foreign interference as long as it hurt the other party. This effect was strongest for things like simply endorsing a candidate, but still noticeable even for more extreme actions like contributing money, spreading lies, or hacking voting machines.

In other words, the results of the top chart are probably real: a small number of people were upset if a country stayed neutral because they actively wanted foreign interference against the opposition party. Likewise, a small number of people approved of vote machine hacking, presumably on the assumption that it would be used to help their own party.

These numbers aren’t huge, and it’s just a survey. So I guess we shouldn’t get too bent out of shape about it. Still, this hardly instills a lot of faith in our fellow voters, does it?

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In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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