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Election Misinformation Likely to Hang Over Iowa Midterm

Clay Masters
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley takes questions at the Hotel Greenfield in Greenfield last week. His town hall in Adair County was the final stop of his annual 99-county tour of Iowa.

Misinformation surrounding the outcome of the last presidential election is already being discussed in the early stages of the 2022 midterm election in Iowa. The field of candidates is still getting set, with a gubernatorial and U.S. Senate race at the top of the Iowa ballot.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley held a town hall at the Hotel Greenfield in Greenfield. This was his final stop of his annual 99 county tour. The Republican has held this seat since 1980 and has said he will decide this fall whether he’ll seek an eighth term.

Grassley took questions about things like Afghanistan, childcare and his vote in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. He quickly answers questions and calls on others in the crowd as hands dart up after he finishes a response.

About 20 minutes into the meeting, a man in the back asks if there could be more audits done for the 2020 election.

“I feel in my heart that there was a lot of cheating going on. I mean a lot,” the man said. “If Biden won, I'm okay with it. If Trump won, and Biden's in there, I am not okay with it.”

Grassley, who last month defended former President Donald Trump’s use of the federal justice department to try to overturn the election, responded by talking about Iowa’s election process and the importance of states setting election law.

Grassley told IPR he’s hearing some concerns about the 2020 presidential election during his town halls.

Clay Masters
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has said he'll announce this fall whether he'll seek an eighth term.

“Those of us in public office have a responsibility to tell the people at our elections are generally fair,” Grassley said. “Does that mean that there's no irregularity? Does that mean that there's absolutely no fraud? There might be some of that in around the country but we have elections that you have to have confidence in or we don't have a democracy.”

There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election. Grassley and every other Republican in Iowa’s congressional delegation voted to count Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. However, polls nationwide have shown a majority of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

“Two-thirds of Republicans still think that Joe Biden is essentially not the legitimate president. They think that the election was fraudulent or corrupt,” says Simpson College Political Science Professor Kedron Bardwell. “That's not a minority position. It's not just a small section of the base. It's the majority of the Republican voting public.”

Republican state Sen. Jim Carlin of Sioux City brought up the false claims of election fraud earlier this year in the Iowa legislature. Carlin is running for Grassley’s seat even if the senior U.S. senator seeks re-election.

“Millions and millions and millions of people believe there was fraud. Most of us, in my caucus in the Republican caucus believe the election was stolen,” Carlin said on the Iowa Senate floor when justifying changes to Iowa’s election laws in February.

In the past couple years, many factors have converged to generate more misinformation at the highest level of American politics, said Bardwell, who teaches a class on conspiracy theories and disinformation at Simpson College.

“In terms of social unrest, in terms of a national crisis, and then in terms of people being able to access this information more quickly,” Bardwell said. “Add to that the fact that trust in many different institutions in the United States has also gone down and you really had a recipe for misinformation disaster."

Clay Masters
Former 1st District Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer campaigns for Joe Biden in 2020 in Waterloo ahead of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. Finkenauer, a Democrat, lost her re-election bid last year and is now running for U.S. Senate in Iowa's 2022 midterm.

Democrats who have declared their candidacy are also talking about misinformation.

“You don't get to keep pushing conspiracy theories, not when we know, our democracy is quite literally on the line here,” said former one-term Iowa Democratic Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer said. She’s now running for Grassley's seat. “We have got to have people who believe in bringing people together, who believe in our country coming together and actually want to work on policies that push our communities forward.”

Former Crawford County Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer and Iowa Democratic Party Rural Caucus Chair Glenn Hurst have also declared their candidacy for the 2022 U.S. Senate seat in Iowa.

Democrats face a voter population that has shifted Republican in Iowa over the last decade, with the GOP gaining ground in areas once considered reliably Democratic. The belief in widespread fraud in the 2020 election runs strong in the Republican Party and was echoed by the rioters who staged a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, seeking to overturn the election results. The false conspiracy theories continue to guide GOP efforts to change election laws in more than a dozen states, and resonate with members of the party for the midterm and beyond.

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.