As Trump airs his election doubts, many supporters say they won't accept a Biden win in 2024

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More than six months out from the presidential election, many Republican voters harbor deep doubts not only about whether President Joe Biden is fit for a second term — but also about whether he can even win re-election fair and square.

“I think that the powers that be on the Democratic side have figured out a way to circumvent democracy,” said Darlene Anastas, 69, of Middleborough, Massachusetts.

Poll after poll has found that a large proportion of the Republican electorate believes the only reasons Joe Biden is president are voter fraud and Democratic dirty tricks, buying into former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election.

Trump continues to stoke those fires on the campaign trail.

He frequently airs false claims about his 2020 election performance and has leaned into defending his supporters who rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In an interview with Time this week, he said he would have trouble hiring anyone who believes Biden legitimately won in 2020: “I wouldn’t feel good about it.”

And on Wednesday, Trump said he may not accept the presidential election results this time, either.

"If everything's honest, I'd gladly accept the results," Trump told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "If it's not, you have to fight for the right of the country."

The doubts Trump pushed last time around resulted in Jan. 6 and linger to this day. Now, there is a fresh cycle of skepticism, pushed again by Trump and many others in the Republican Party. And the views have firmly taken root with many of their followers, as interviews with 50 Republican voters across a dozen states showed.

The majority of voters who spoke with NBC News said they weren’t prepared to accept a Biden victory as legitimate, potentially setting up another presidential election — and potentially a volatile aftermath — in which a large part of the public refuses to believe the results.

Trump himself wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of violence around the election in his interview with Time: “If we don’t win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of the election.”

Democrats “cheat like crazy,” said George Crosby, 72, a veteran from Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. “I think they cheated before, and I think they’re going to try to do it again, because they’re a bunch of communists.”

James Russon, 38, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, said, “There’s no way Biden could legally ... win without unfair means.” He added that the only way Biden could prevail would be through “cheating” or “a lot of deceased people voting.”

Randall Minicola, 62, of Las Vegas, said it would be “impossible” for Biden to win.

“I don’t think he’s got a following. I mean, you look who’s behind him — the only thing he’s got is ghosts behind him. That’s what I believe. Where’s the supporters then? Are they in the basement with him? I don’t think so,” Minicola said.

The possibility of another election in which large numbers of Republicans refuse to accept a Biden victory has also been stoked by influential conservatives.

“A senile man is not going to get elected in the most powerful country in the world unless there’s fraud,” former Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on the “Lex Fridman Podcast in March.

“Who would vote for a senile man?” Carlson asked. “He literally can’t talk.”

Republican voters who said they don’t believe Biden can win in 2024 frequently cited their doubts about the outcome in 2020 as a reason to be skeptical again. But they also had three other driving concerns: Biden’s age and mental fitness, mistrust in the electoral process and information from social media.

'A few bubbles off center'

Questions about Biden’s mental and physical fitness for the job have consistently come up this election cycle. Biden, 81, would be the oldest president ever if he’s re-elected. Trump, who is 77, would also be the oldest.

The latest NBC News national polling, conducted April 12-16, finds Americans with little confidence in Biden’s mental and physical health. Only 26% of those surveyed picked Biden over Trump when they were asked which candidate has the necessary mental and physical health to be president. Forty-five percent went with Trump, and 26% responded that neither candidate is up to snuff.

Some Republican voters’ belief that Biden isn’t up for the job mentally also convinces them there’s no way he could pull off a win.

Asked why she doesn’t believe Biden can win without cheating this cycle, Martha O’Hara, 64, of Parker, Colorado, said it was “because of his inability to complete a sentence.”

“I just don’t think that he has the ability to do a debate effectively where you could understand the topic,” she said. “I just don’t think that he’s mentally able.”

Cheryl Pulice, 61, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, shared O’Hara’s sentiment.

“Oh, no, no,” Pulice said when she was asked whether Biden could win legitimately. “Cognitively, he’s not well. I’m surprised that he hasn’t been made to step down at this point.”

Nancy Glawe, 45, a hospital worker from Tucson, Arizona, said, “There’s a few bubbles off center.” She voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but is supporting Robert F. Kennedy Jr. this year.

Mistrust of voting machines

In the wake of the 2020 election, prominent conspiracy theorists and Trump’s lawyers made outlandish claims about voting machines, arguing that the election was rigged by a global cabal of corporations and foreign communists. Trump’s lawyers promised proof but offered none, which in part led to the failure of dozens of lawsuits seeking to overturn the outcome of the election.

The voting machine companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, which were repeatedly accused of rigging the election, responded with a dozen defamation suits against Trump allies and conservative media outlets.

Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems reached a $787.5 million settlement agreement last year. The litigation made public emails showing that Trump lawyer Sidney Powell offered up an email from someone who identified as an “internally decapitated” time traveler as evidence of Dominion’s supposed election rigging.

Fox said in a statement at the time of the settlement that it recognized the court’s previous ruling that certain claims it had made about Dominion were “false.”

But the unfounded theories linger, and some voters still aren’t convinced.

“I have great concern, as well, for the machines, any electronic [machines],” said Ellen Streiff, 57, of Glendale, Arizona. Streiff also plans to support Republican Kari Lake for the Senate; Lake has repeatedly spread false claims about voting machines in the wake of her failed 2022 bid for governor.

Kelly Hicks, 41, a Trump supporter from Litchfield, New Hampshire, said the embrace of voting machines is also what’s driving her distrust in Biden’s ability to win fair and square.

“We see an increase in the machines being used that were used in our previous election,” Hicks said. She added that she believes not enough has been reformed since 2020 to make 2024 a fair fight.

The U.S. has used voting machines for decades, and there’s no evidence of any fraud schemes involving them — despite countless investigations and reviews by state and local authorities.

Michael Granger, a state legislator from Milton, New Hampshire, also mentioned voting machines as the reason he’s unsure whether this year’s results will be legitimate.

“It’s very hard to prove one way or another without auditing all the votes,” said Granger, 33, a state representative. “All the votes are counted across different municipalities. There’s different procedures. Some places have machines; some places don’t. It’d be very hard to prove.”

Voting machines are used in the vast majority of U.S. elections — less than 0.2% of registered voters in the U.S. live in jurisdictions that will hand-count ballots this year. Pre-election accuracy testing and post-election audits are used to verify results. In Georgia, for example, voters cast ballots on machines, but post-election audits count the votes listed on paper ballots.

Social media bubbles

As Republicans and Democrats alike absorb their political information through personally targeted social media algorithms, voters acknowledged to NBC News that their disbelief that Biden can legitimately win might be spurred by the content they’re being delivered on their phones.

Asked why he doesn’t believe Biden can win fairly, Davis Green, a financial analyst from Salt Lake City, said, “Maybe it’s the bubble I’m in and the algorithm that I’m seeing.”

Green, 35, voted third party in 2016 and in 2020 but is supporting Trump this year.

Joseph Murillo, 22, an air-conditioning technician from Las Vegas, also pointed to his social media feeds for why he’s skeptical about Biden’s 2020 win and any potential victory in November.

“Maybe because my social media stuff kind of tells me what I want to hear sometimes, you know, the algorithm,” Murillo said. “I don’t feel like there’s a fair way that Biden could win.”

'Anything's possible'

Michael Ferraro, 66, of Fairfax, Virginia, said voting by mail fueled his skepticism of the 2020 results.

“The whole mail-in ballot thing in 2020 was confusing for not only citizens but for people counting the ballots,” he said.

Yet Ferraro said his questions about the last election won’t stop him from accepting the results this year, even if Trump doesn’t win, because he feels better about what’s being set up for November.

“I think there are more people watching on both sides,” he said.

“At least where we live, I can tell there are a lot more people at polling places. ... People are going to be attentive,” he added.

Paul Gleske, 61, of Berwick, Maine, also thinks it’s at least possible for Biden to win legitimately.

“It seems like most people have already decided; there’s a small sliver in the middle,” Gleske said, predicting a tight race.

Dan Wilson, 69, a retired medical ethicist from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who has supported Trump since 2016, said nothing could be ruled out.

“Anything’s possible,” he said.

Janice Woerner, 51, a music teacher from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, thinks a legitimate Biden win could be in the cards. But she dreads the day that ever comes.

“If he is legitimately elected by our country,” Woerner said, “then heaven help us is all I have to say.”

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