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Saying That Russia "Hacked the Election" is Misleading the Public

While being interviewed on CNN on March 6th, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said that the Russians "have clearly hacked our election." She went on to say that Russia perpetrated a "hack into our election system." We've heard this mendacious line almost constantly from Democratic politicians and commentators since the election, and it's nonsense. It's true that Russia appears to have hacked the emails of Podesta and the DNC and disseminated propaganda, thus influencing voters. To say, however, that Russia "hacked the election" or "election system," gives the inaccurate impression that vote totals were tampered with.

I didn't vote for Trump, and I don't like him. One reason I don't like him is that he doesn't seem to have any respect for truth, and "hacked the election" fails the same test. Here are the facts: emails from the DNC and John Podesta were hacked via embarrassingly basic methods, then passed along to Wikileaks, and then trumpeted out to American voters through the press. The US intelligence community has what it considers to be strong circumstantial evidence that Russian intelligence, by way of two groups known as 'Fancy Bear' and 'Cozy Bear,' is behind these hacks, and I'm inclined to agree, though I think more investigating still needs to be done.

What does it mean to hack an election? Or, as Senator Shaheen said, to hack an election system? A reasonable person who lacked additional facts would assume that votes had been tampered with. Many reasonable people, it appears, have come to believe exactly that, if a poll by The Economist and YouGov from late December is even close to accurate.


Note: The full data set can be found here, on page 62 of The Economist & YouGov's polling report.

These numbers are staggering. A mere 16% of Democrats are clear on the fact that Russia did not tamper with vote totals. That's fewer than the number of Democrats who believe this proposition to be 'definitely true.' The poll reveals Independents and Republicans to also be largely uninformed, with only 29% and 39% respectively understanding that Russia did no such thing. (President Obama himself confirmed that votes were not tampered with during an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in December 2016.)

This kind of misinformation is allowed to fester, it seems, because of the extent to which partisan battle lines have been drawn. Democrats are not demanding truth from their politicians in 2017. Instead, they are demanding only that their representatives oppose Trump. Republicans don't appear to be any better, and seem to celebrate President Trump more for how he infuriates Democrats than anything else, with the possible exception of his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

There's a real danger here of a downward spiral. The country is so caught up in partisan bickering that all regard for principles, and even for truth, could flush down the pipe before we realize exactly what's happening, if it hasn't already.

We all need to commit to doing politics better. Commit to calling out friends when they say untrue things about their political opponents. Commit to seeking out information contrary to our opinions and beliefs. Commit to holding the people we like to the same standards as the people we don't like. It's obvious that we are not doing these things right now, at least not enough of us and not often enough, and as a result we're happy to believe lies provided they're in the service of our cause. And finally, if you're strongly opposed to Trump you need to understand that if you don't do these things it won't matter if you win and he's impeached. He'll be gone, but you'll have 'normalized' several of the worst things about him.