No, the Russians didn’t alter the election outcome, but that’s no reason for complacency
On the blog Lawfare I have a new essay (“Why the Mueller Indictment Doesn’t Allege the Russians Swung the Election”) which explains not only why the recent indictments contain “no allegation … that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election” but also why I think no such allegation is forthcoming. However, I also explain why I believe that is no reason for complacency about our electoral process.
In my post I point to various studies (including one by the Columbia Journalism Review) to eventually conclude that though the Russian effort was energetic, it was ultimately “too puny—and perhaps too ill-directed and inartful—to be decisive.”
In the course of the discussion, I note the enormous resources the Clinton campaign had at its disposal. According to the Washington Post:
Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign ($768 million in spending) outspent Trump’s successful one ($398 million) by nearly 2 to 1. The Democratic National Committee and left-leaning outside groups also outspent their Republican counterparts by considerable margins.
I also added these observations:
And it wasn’t just paid advertising in which Clinton had a significant advantage over Trump, it was also her nearly total domination of America’s editorial offices. Business Insider said “Clinton’s final endorsement tally crested 240 editorial boards” as opposed to just 19 for Trump. Furthermore, Clinton collected an “overwhelming” number of endorsements from the U.S.’s best known celebrities (though it isn’t at all clear that they helped her). In other words, from a conventional electioneering perspective, Clinton did many of the right things.
But conventional electioneering would not win this campaign. It seems that the Trump team was savvier in its approach to social media. As I say in the essay, “election postmortems (from Wired and Politico, among others) suggest that the Trump team invested more heavily in social media and Facebook advertising compared to Clinton’s focus on standard campaign tactics.” In the context of the spending of both the campaigns, the Russian efforts amounted to only a “ drop in the bucket as far as political advertising on social media went.”
All of this said, I’m convinced the Russians will give it another shot. After all, as Jack Goldsmith notes, “with a relatively paltry budget of $1.25 million per month, Russia achieves the most disruptive information operation in history that continues to roil American politics even if it did not swing the election.” In my view, count on Russia to give it another try, and do so in an “even more robust and sophisticated way.”
We owe it to our country’s founders and each other to make it as difficult as possible for Russia or any other country to try to disrupt an election or to stir up divisions and turmoil in our United States of America.
But, as we like to say on Lawfire, take a look at my full argument, check my facts, and decide for yourself. Again, the post is found here.