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Fact Check: Was the Georgia Gubernatorial Primary Rigged?
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Fact Check: Was the Georgia Gubernatorial Primary Rigged?

A former White House correspondent misrepresents information about Gov. Brian Kemp’s victory.

After Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp beat former Sen. David Perdue in the gubernatorial Republican primary last week, voter conspiracy theories began circulating on social media. Perdue, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and campaigned on Trump’s 2020 election falsehoods, lost to Kemp by nearly 52 percentage points—73.7 to 21.8 percent.

One conspiracy theory comes from former Newsmax White House correspondent Emerald Robinson. In a recent article published on her Substack Emerald Robinson’s The Right Way, she writes that “the votes were rigged” in the Georgia primary race. Former President Donald Trump shared the article, “Something Stinks In Georgia,” via his Save America PAC Tuesday morning.

Robinson is a frequent purveyor of misinformation who was fired from Newsmax and banned from Twitter after she promoted the false claim that the COVID-19 vaccines contain a “bioluminescent marker called luciferase.” We fact checked the false claim here

In her recent article, Robinson presents few actual facts or hard data points. She claims that “President Trump’s endorsement is the single most powerful force in the universe of American politics,” then, referring to the percentage of the vote Kemp got in last week’s primary, claims: “Nobody in any election in America gets 74% of the votes. Ever. It doesn’t happen.”

Here’s where she’s wrong. 

Douglas Jones, professor of computer science and an election expert at the University of Iowa, explained in an email to The Dispatch Fact Check that in primaries, winning by such a wide margin isn’t actually all that unusual. 

“In the West Virginia 2020 senate election, the Republican got 70% of the vote. That was in a general election against a Democrat, not in a primary against someone from their own party, so it’s not really a fair comparison,” Jones said. “Primary elections are frequently won by even wider margins, because frequently, you have someone nobody’s heard of running against a well known figure.”

David Becker, the executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, in an interview with The Dispatch Fact Check, echoed the sentiment.

“These are primary elections, he said. “Of course, it happens all the time. It just depends on how many candidates there are.”

Jones looked to 2018 primary results as a way to illustrate how common this is. 

In the 2018 Republican primary for Iowa Congressional District 4, incumbent Steve King won 74.8 percent of the vote. In the 2018 Democratic primary for New Jersey District 6, incumbent Frank Pallone Jr. got 86.2 percent of the vote (and 79 percent in 2020).  Lastly, incumbent Bill Pascrell won New Jersey District 9 in the 2018 Democratic primary with 85.7 percent of the vote (and 80.6 percent in 2020).

In reporting on the claim that “nobody” gets 74% of the vote Aaron Blake of the Washington Post turned to a 2009 study from Clark University that “found that about 1 in 10 Senate incumbents took less than 75 percent of the vote in their primaries. Many faced token or no opposition, but [getting more than 75 percent] does happen—very regularly.” Blake also noted that “Trump also got at least 74 percent of the vote in nearly 1,100 counties in the 2020 general election.”

Robinson also relies on polling from the University of Georgia, which, she says, predicted that in other races on the Georgia ballot, “Trump-endorsed candidates were going to win almost everything — which is happening in every other state in the country right now.” Robinson, however, misrepresents the findings of the poll, as The Dispatch’s Andrew Egger pointed out: Some voters in the Georgia poll only preferred Trump-endorsed candidates when they knew which candidate Trump backed in those particular races.

But when it comes to the poll’s findings about the gubernatorial race, a Capitol Beat news story (which Robinson referenced) says: “GOP Gov. Brian Kemp led former U.S. Sen. David Perdue 47.9% to 37.2% among voters who weren’t told that Trump had endorsed Perdue. When given that information, voters still preferred Kemp but by the slightly narrower margin of 46.2% to 39.2%.” 

It’s also worth pointing out that  Perdue’s campaign took a nosedive closer to Election Day (May 24), and the University of Georgia poll that Robinson references was  conducted March 20 through April 8.

“We hold elections and capture the intent of voters at a moment in time,” he said. “And it’s not done by polling. It’s done by much more rigorous methodologies.”

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Khaya Himmelman is a fact checker for The Dispatch. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.