Guest post: The meanings of “legitimate”

Originally a comment by Screechy Monkey on He knows he lost but.

“Legitimate” is a tricky word — it means a lot of different things to different people. Regardless of how political scientists might define it, the average voter might mean any of the following:

1. “I understand that it is the will of the people that X is going to be president, and under our system he’s entitled to assume the office, but I consider him unworthy and therefore don’t personally think he is a ‘real’ president.”

2. “I understand that X ‘won’ the election under the rules in place (the Electoral College), and under our system he’s entitled to assume the office, but I consider those rules anti-democratic and therefore don’t consider him to be a legitimate reflection of the will of the people.”

3. “I understand that it is the will of the people that X is going to be president, and under our system he’s entitled to assume the office, but I think the voters were influenced by improper and/or criminal acts that mean he doesn’t fairly reflect the will of the people.”

4. “I understand that X is going to be president, and under our system he’s entitled to assume the office, but I think there was some voter fraud (or voter intimidation or vote suppression) that draw into question whether or not the result actually reflects the will of the people.”

5. “I don’t think that X is entitled to assume the office of president and think that courts and other institutions should not allow him to do so.”

There are slight differences among 1-4, but a huge difference when you get to 5. That’s why I question some of the recent polling about what percentage of Trump voters consider Biden “illegitimate.” There’s a big difference. I think very few Democratic voters were in #5 in 2016, and no elected official that I can remember.

In terms of how Democrats reacted, you can also compare to 2004, where some Democratic supporters circulated theories about Diebold voting machines “stealing” Ohio for Bush, etc.

But in both 2004 and 2016, actual Democratic officeholders didn’t go around saying that Bush or Trump should not be inaugurated, transition funds should be denied, etc. etc. Kerry and Clinton both conceded promptly.

This is a recurring pattern — Democrats reject their conspiracy-minded supporters, while the GOP not only embraces them, it elects them to office. (Compare how Van Jones had to resign from an Obama admin position because of his associations with 9/11 Truthers, while the GOP is going to have a Q Anon lunatic in the House.)

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