Trump Lies That Millions Voted Illegally, And Mainstream Outlets Uncritically Echo Him

Media outlets failed to hold President-elect Donald Trump accountable for his false claim that “millions of people” illegally voted in the 2016 presidential election by failing to state in their headlines and tweets -- which are what most news consumers see -- that the allegation was a lie. The claim, which Trump used to dismiss his loss in the popular vote and to attack a recount effort in Wisconsin, was originally pushed by far-right “conspiracy-theory hawking” websites. Even though fact-checking organizations debunked the idea, numerous mainstream media outlets writing about the issue on social media and in headlines either reported Trump’s lie without noting that it was false or hedged by writing only that it lacked evidence.

Trump Baselessly Claims Millions Voted Illegally In Election

Trump: “Millions Of People” Voted Illegally For Clinton. President-elect Donald Trump responded to an election recount in Wisconsin initiated by the Green Party by falsely claiming, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.’’ The Los Angeles Times reported that the claim was “immediately denounced” by “election experts.” From the November 27 article:

Donald Trump falsely claimed Sunday that he won the popular vote, alleging in a tweet — without evidence — that “millions” of people had illegally voted for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump wrote, hours after he tweeted his opposition to a recount in Midwestern states initiated by the Green Party.

Election experts, who say election fraud is rare, immediately denounced Trump's claim.

“There's been no evidence produced of millions – or thousands – or even hundreds – of noncitizens voting for president in 2016,” tweeted Rick Hasen, a professor of law and politics who writes for the Election Law Blog. [Los Angeles Times, 11/27/16]

Trump’s Claim Came From “Conspiracy-Theory Hawking” Right-Wing Media And Has Been Debunked

Wash. Post’s “The Fix”: Trump’s False Claim Came From A Tweet Picked Up By Infowars And The Drudge Report. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted that Trump’s claim came from “a random tweet” by a former Texas state official named Gregg Phillips claiming “3 million votes ... were cast by noncitizens,” which was “quickly picked up by the conspiracy-theory hawking site InfoWars” and “was linked out at the top of the Drudge Report on Nov. 14.” Bump pointed out that “the rumor-debunking site Snopes looked at Phillips’s claim and found no evidence for it.” From the November 27 article:

In fact, this claim that millions of illegal immigrants voted is itself the result of a random tweet.

On Nov. 13, Gregg Phillips, a former Texas Health and Human Services Commission deputy commissioner, tweeted about there being 3 million votes that were cast by noncitizens.

Phillips claims in another tweet that his organization (it's not clear which organization, but it may be True the Vote) has a database of 180 million voter registrations and he confirms that 3 million of the people in that database who voted are noncitizens. He has been asked to provide evidence for that claim repeatedly, without having done so.


Regardless, the story was quickly picked up by the conspiracy-theory hawking site InfoWars, a story that was linked out at the top of the Drudge Report on Nov. 14.


The rumor-debunking site Snopes looked at Phillips's claim and found no evidence for it. (It also noted that Phillips has a history of implying that Obamacare will lead to the registration of millions of immigrants here illegally.) Phillips replied on Twitter, “One might imagine someone would have called me.” That's easier said than done; when I was looking at this earlier this month I couldn't find a way to contact Phillips. An email to True the Vote, a conservative group focused on the issue of voter fraud (for which Phillips claims to be a board member), did not receive a reply. [The Washington Post, 11/27/16]

PolitiFact: “‘Obscenely Ludicrous’” Claim That 3 Million Voted Illegally Is “Undermined By Publicly Available Information.” PolitiFact examined Phillips’ claim and rated it “false,” finding that “Phillips will not provide any evidence to support his claim, which happens to be undermined by publicly available information.” The PolitiFact article also quoted an election law expert who called the claim “fake news” and “obscenely ludicrous.” From the November 14 article:

While we have no idea how Phillips arrived at his claim that 3-million noncitizens voted, people who have made similar claims in the past have cited a 2014 report that claims 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010 midterm congressional elections.

That report was based on data from a Harvard survey of people. But the data was flawed, which created flaws in the subsequent report.


Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, called Phillips’ claim “fake news.”

“There is no credible evidence I have seen to show large numbers of noncitizens voting in U.S. elections anywhere,” Hasen said. “The idea that 3 million noncitizens could have illegally voted in our elections without being detected is obscenely ludicrous.”


Reports claim 3 million “illegal aliens” cast votes in this year's election.

The articles point back to tweets from Gregg Phillips, who has worked for the Republican Party and has a voter fraud reporting app. But Phillips will not provide any evidence to support his claim, which happens to be undermined by publicly available information. [PolitiFact, 11/14/16]

Wash. Post Fact Checker: Trump’s Claim That Millions Voted Illegally Is “A Bogus Claim With No Documented Proof.” The Washington Post Fact Checker awarded Trump’s claim four “Pinocchios,” its worst rating that is reserved for “whoppers,” calling the allegation “bogus” and cautioning, “Now that Trump is on the verge of becoming president, he needs to be more careful about making wild allegations with little basis in fact, especially if the claim emerged from a handful of tweets and conspiracy-minded websites.” [The Washington Post, 11/27/16]

Media Tweets And Headlines Quoted Trump’s Lie Without Noting It Was False

CBS News Tweet: “Donald Trump: ‘Millions’ Voted Illegally For Hillary Clinton.” CBS News initially tweeted, “Donald Trump: “Millions” voted illegally for Hillary Clinton,” only later tweeting a “clarification” that Trump was “citing no evidence”:

[Twitter, 11/27/16, 11/27/16]

NBC News Tweet: “Trump Claims He Lost Popular Vote Because 'Millions' Voted Illegally.”

[Twitter, 11/27/16]

Wash. Post Tweet: “Donald Trump: ‘I Won The Popular Vote If You Deduct The Millions Of People Who Voted Illegally.’”

[Twitter, 11/27/16]

WSJ Tweet: “Video: Trump Claims Millions 'Voted Illegally.'”

[Twitter, 11/28/16]

WSJ Headline: “Donald Trump Alleges That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally.” The Wall Street Journal published the headline “Donald Trump Alleges That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally,” clarifying only in the subhead that there was no evidence for the claim:

[The Wall Street Journal, 11/27/16]

CNN Tweet: “Trump Alleges He Would Have Won Popular Vote If ‘Millions Of People’ Hadn't Voted Illegally For Hillary Clinton.”

[Twitter, 11/27/16]

Other Media Tweets And Headlines Suggested Trump’s Claim Simply Lacked Evidence, Rather Than Stating That It Was False

CBS News Headline: “Donald Trump, Citing No Evidence, Claims ‘Millions’ Of People Voted Illegally In The 2016 Election.”

[CBS News, 11/27/16]

NBC News Headline: “With No Evidence, Trump Claims 'Millions' Voted Illegally.”

[NBC News, 11/28/16]

Reuters Headline: “Trump, Without Evidence, Says Illegal Voting Cost Him U.S. Popular Vote.”

[Reuters, 11/27/16]

NY Times Tweet: “Donald Trump, Citing No Evidence, Claimed ‘Millions’ Voted Illegally. He Was Railing Against A Recount Push.”

[Twitter, 11/28/16]