In the hours after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, hoping to block Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win and retain Donald Trump as president, more than 130 Republican members of the House voted to do precisely that. The rioters tried to use intimidation and physical obstruction to achieve that goal. The Republican legislators used votes.
Specifically, they voted to reject the elector slates submitted by Arizona, Pennsylvania or both. The putative rationale for rejecting those electoral votes was an evolving, vaguely articulated set of concerns about the results and fraud. It didn’t really matter; Republicans had decided that the path for Trump to retain power was for them to block electors, so that’s what they tried to do.
Immediately afterward, there was outcry. Corporations pledged not to support their campaigns. Media outlets were deliberate about noting which politicians had tried to reject the electoral votes.
The potential political costs for those rejecting the Arizona and Pennsylvania results came to mind this week as Talking Points Memo published newly obtained text-message chains between then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Republican legislators. Those messages show that many of those who ultimately tried to block Arizona’s and Pennsylvania’s electors were generally agitating to keep Trump in power. So it was natural to ask: Was their own political influence dampened by the effort?
Around 30 Republicans who voted on the issue that night weren’t on the ballot in November. There’s a pattern to the reasons they weren’t: politicians who’d voted to block both Pennsylvania and Arizona often left the House to seek higher office. Those who sided with the Democratic majority in accepting the electors were more likely to retire (rather than run for reelection) or to lose primaries (against Republicans friendlier to Trump).
Notice that three Republicans lost in November — one who voted to reject both slates of electors, one who voted to reject only one and a third who voted to reject neither.
You can see them below, on a plot of the final vote margin in 2022. On average, those who voted to reject both states’ electors won by 41 points. Those who voted to accept both states’ electors won by only 30 points.
But those who voted to accept both slates were also from more-Democratic districts. According to DailyKos analysis, districts represented by those who voted to accept the electors preferred Trump by 18 points in 2020. Districts represented by people who rejected both electoral slates backed Trump by 25 points.
If we compare the 2022 results in districts to 2020, we see that there’s not much difference between the two groups of legislators. One might think, for example, that legislators who tried to block electors might fare better than those who didn’t if this was a salient issue for voters. But, on average, those who voted to support both slates saw margins (excluding uncontested races) that were 9 points more Republican than the 2020 presidential margin in their districts. Those who voted to oppose both slates had results that were 8 points more Republican.
The reason for this is obvious. Polling repeatedly showed that, while both Democrats and Republicans expressed concern about American democracy, they differed in the nature of those concerns. Democrats were worried about things like blocking electors. Republicans were more worried about baseless claims of voter fraud.
This will no doubt be frustrating to the former group. The only political accountability tool American voters have is ousting someone from office. Voters in these districts, themselves heavily Republican, rewarded the objectors with another term in office.