WASHINGTON (AP) — With Donald Trump facing felony charges over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, the former president is flooding the airwaves and his social media platform with distortions, misinformation and unfounded conspiracy theories about his defeat.
It’s part of a multiyear effort to undermine public confidence in the American electoral process as he seeks to chart a return to the White House in 2024. There is evidence that his lies are resonating: New polling from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 57% of Republicans believe Democrat Joe Biden was not legitimately elected as president.
Here are the facts about Trump’s loss in the last presidential election:
Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020 was not particularly close. He won the Electoral College with 306 votes to Trump’s 232, and the popular vote by more than 7 million ballots.
Because the Electoral College ultimately determines the presidency, the race was decided by a few battleground states. Many of those states conducted recounts or thorough reviews of the results, all of which confirmed Biden’s victory.
In Arizona, a six-month review of ballots in the state’s largest county, Maricopa, that was commissioned by Republican state legislators not only affirmed Biden’s victory but determined that he should have won by 306 more votes than the officially certified statewide margin of 10,457.
In Georgia, where Trump was recently indicted for his efforts to overturn the 2020 result there, state officials led by both a Republican governor and secretary of state recertified Biden’s win after conducting three statewide counts. The final official recount narrowed Biden’s victory in the state from just shy of 13,000 votes to just shy of 12,000 votes.
In Michigan, a committee led by Republican state senators concluded there was no widespread or systematic fraud in the state in 2020 after conducting a monthslong investigation. Michigan, where Biden defeated Trump by almost 155,000 votes, or 2.8 percentage points, was less competitive compared with other battleground states, although the result in Wayne County, home of Detroit, was targeted by Trump and his supporters with unfounded voter fraud claims, as were key urban jurisdictions across the country.
In Nevada, the then-secretary of state, Republican Barbara Cegavske, and her office reviewed tens of thousands of allegations of possible voter fraud identified by the Nevada Republican Party but found that almost all were based on incomplete information and a lack of understanding of the state’s voting and registration procedures. For example, Cegavske’s investigation found that of 1,506 alleged instances of ballots being cast in the name of deceased individuals, only 10 warranted further investigation by law enforcement. Similarly, 10 out of 1,778 allegations of double-voting called for further investigation. Biden won Nevada by 33,596 votes, or 2.4 percentage points.
In Pennsylvania, the final certified results had Biden with an 80,555-vote margin over Trump, or 1.2 percentage points. Efforts to overturn Pennsylvania’s election failed in state and federal courts, while no prosecutor, judge or election official in Pennsylvania has raised a concern about widespread fraud. State Republicans continue to attempt their own review of the 2020 results, but that effort has been tied up in the courts and Democrats have called it a “partisan fishing expedition.”
In Wisconsin, a recount slightly improved Biden’s victory over Trump by 87 votes, increasing Biden’s statewide lead to 20,682, or 0.6 percentage points. A nonpartisan audit that concluded a year after the election made recommendations on how to improve future elections in Wisconsin but did not uncover evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state, leading the Republican co-chair of the audit committee to declare that “the election was largely safe and secure.” The state’s Assembly speaker, a Republican, ordered a separate review, which a state judge said found “absolutely no evidence of election fraud.”
An exhaustive AP investigation in 2021 found fewer than 475 instances of confirmed voter fraud across six battleground states — nowhere near the magnitude required to sway the outcome of the presidential election.
The review of ballots and records from more than 300 local elections offices found that almost every instance of voter fraud was committed by individuals acting alone and not the result of a massive, coordinated conspiracy to rig the election. The cases involved both registered Democrats and Republicans, and the culprits were almost always caught before the fraudulent ballot was counted.
Some of the cases appeared to be intentional attempts to commit fraud, while others seemed to involve either administrative error or voter confusion, including the case of one Wisconsin man who cast a ballot for Trump but said he was unaware that he was ineligible to vote because he was on parole for a felony conviction.
The AP review also produced no evidence to support Trump’s claims that states tabulated more votes than there are registered voters.
Biden won Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and their 79 Electoral College votes by a combined 311,257 votes out of 25.5 million ballots cast. The disputed ballots represent just 0.15% of his victory margin in those states.
Trump was repeatedly advised by members of his own administration that there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
Nine days after the 2020 election, the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a statement saying, “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” The statement was co-written by the groups representing the top elections officials in every state.
Less than three weeks later, then-Attorney General William Barr declared that a Justice Department investigation had not uncovered evidence of the widespread voter fraud that Trump had claimed was at the center of a massive conspiracy to steal the election. Barr, who had directed U.S. attorneys and FBI agents across the country to pursue “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities, said, “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
The Jan. 6 House committee report details additional instances where administration officials and White House staff refuted Trump’s various allegations of voter fraud.
The Trump campaign and its backers pursued numerous legal challenges to the election in court and alleged a variety of voter fraud and misconduct. The cases were heard and roundly rejected by dozens of courts at both state and federal levels, including by judges whom Trump appointed.
One of them, U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas, was on a federal panel that declined a request to stop Pennsylvania from certifying its results, saying, “Voters, not lawyers, choose the president. Ballots, not briefs, decide elections.”
The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected several efforts in the weeks after Election Day to overturn the election results in various battleground states that Biden won.
Many of the claims Trump and his team advanced about a stolen election dealt with the equipment voters used to cast their ballots.
At various times, Trump and his legal team falsely alleged that voting machines were built in Venezuela at the direction of President Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013; that machines were designed to delete or flip votes cast for Trump; and that the U.S. Army had seized a computer server in Germany that held secrets to U.S. voting irregularities.
None of those claims was ever substantiated or corroborated. CISA’s joint statement released after the election said, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.”
Nonetheless, many of these and other unfounded claims were repeated on Fox News, both by members of the Trump team as well as by some of the network’s on-air personalities. Dominion Voting Systems sued the network for $1.6 billion, claiming the outlet’s airing of these allegations amounted to defamation.
Records of internal communications at Fox News unearthed in the case showed that the network aired the claims even though its biggest stars, including Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, as well as the company’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, did not believe they were true.
Dominion and Fox News settled out of court for $787.5 million.
Trump and his supporters also have claimed that a number of other factors contributed to a broader effort to steal the presidential election.
One theory advanced by both Trump and one of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, is that “suitcases” full of fraudulent ballots in Georgia cost Trump the election there.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen told the Jan. 6 House committee that he personally reviewed the video purported to show the fraud allegation in question. He recounted telling Trump: “It wasn’t a suitcase. It was a bin. That’s what they use when they’re counting ballots. It’s benign.”
State and county officials also had confirmed the containers were regular ballot containers on wheels, which are used in normal ballot processing.
But a week later, Trump publicly repeated the suitcase theory, saying, “There is even security camera footage from Georgia that shows officials telling poll watchers to leave the room before pulling suitcases of ballots out from under the tables and continuing to count for hours.”
Richard Donoghue, the former acting deputy attorney general, told the Jan. 6 committee that, days later, he told Trump that “these allegations about ballots being smuggled in in a suitcase and run through the machine several times, it was not true. … We looked at the video, we interviewed the witnesses.” But Trump continued to repeat the false claim.
Another debunked claim spinning a tale of 2,000 so-called ballot mules was featured in a film that ran in hundreds of theaters last spring. The film alleges that Democrat-aligned individuals were paid to illegally collect and drop ballots in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But the AP determined that the allegations were based on flawed analysis of cellphone location data and drop box surveillance footage.
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin; Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta; Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.