New Poll: Amid Widespread Uncertainty about What Disqualifies Eligible Americans from Voting, Broad Support for Policies to Increase Access to Ballot
Americans Polarized along Partisan, Racial, and Ethnic Lines about Biggest Problems Facing Electoral System
WASHINGTON – “American Democracy in Crisis: The Challenges of Voter Knowledge, Participation, and Polarization”— the first of a series of surveys from PRRI/The Atlantic examining challenges to democratic institutions and practices— finds an alarming number of Americans do not know what factors qualify people for or disqualify people from voting. The survey also finds large divides by political party, race, and ethnicity regarding the biggest problems facing the U.S. electoral system. At the same time, there is strong, bipartisan support for a range of policies that increase access to the ballot.
Americans ‘Don’t Know’ What Disqualifies Voters
The poll found that anywhere from 26 percent to 60 percent of Americans do not know whether certain election laws exist in their state.
“Americans’ lack of understanding of their state’s voting laws is alarming for a mature democracy such as ours and indicates a broad need for civic education,” said PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “As political campaigns become more sophisticated and competitive, there is a real danger that voters—particularly voters of color who report more difficulties voting–can be manipulated or discouraged from casting an eligible vote.”
More than one in four (26 percent) Americans say that they do not know whether being an American citizen– perhaps the most basic question of voter eligibility–is a requirement to be eligible to vote in their state. The percentages of those saying they were uncertain about whether certain conditions would disqualify them from voting in their state varies but is remarkably high across the board:
- Not having a permanent address (60 percent)
- Being late to pay your taxes (52 percent)
- Having outstanding parking tickets or unpaid utility bills (47 percent)
- Being convicted of a felony (43 percent)
- Not being able to speak English fluently (36 percent)
Partisan, Racial, and Ethnic Divides on Problems Facing the Voting System
There is strong, bipartisan agreement that too few people voting is a major problem with the current election system, with majorities of Democrats (78 percent) and Republicans (58 percent) holding this view. On most other potential problems with the electoral system, however, there are large divides by political party, race, and ethnicity.
- Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans say that the influence of wealthy individuals and corporations in elections is a major problem. But Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to agree with this assessment (82 percent vs. 42 percent).
- Similarly, nearly six in ten (57 percent) Americans identify media bias against certain candidates as a problem, although there are large partisan divides on this question, with 81 percent of Republicans, but only 41 percent of Democrats, citing this as a major problem.
- Fewer (38 percent) Americans view the issue of eligible voters being denied the right to vote as a major problem in America’s elections. However, there are stark racial divides on this issue, with 62 percent of black Americans and 60 percent of Hispanic Americans citing this as a major problem, compared to only 27 percent of whites.
Bipartisan Support for Many Electoral Reforms
Despite partisan divides about problems facing the electoral system, there is widespread support for a range of policies that would increase access to the ballot.
- More than seven in ten (72 percent) Americans—including 82 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents, and 64 percent of Republicans—support allowing people convicted of a felony to vote after they have served their sentences.
- Two-thirds (67 percent) of the public—including 83 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of independents, and 52 percent of Republicans– support automatic voter registration when citizens do business with the Department of Motor Vehicles or other state agencies.
- About six in ten (61 percent) Americans—including 74 percent of Democrats, but only 42 percent of Republicans– favor same-day voter registration.
Other notable findings from the poll included:
- White Evangelical Protestants See Media Bias as Major Problem in Elections: Among white evangelical Protestants, who are among President Trump’s strongest supporters, 94 percent believe media bias is a problem in our current electoral system with 79 percent considering it a major problem and 15 percent categorizing it as a minor problem. Only 5 percent of white evangelical Protestants say it is not a problem.
- Black and Hispanic Americans are about two to three times more likely than whites to report experiencing difficulty voting the last time they attempted to vote.
- Three times as many black Americans and Hispanics (9 percent), as white Americans (3 percent), report being told they or someone in their household did not have the right form of identification.
- 15 percent of black Americans and 14 percent of Hispanics, compared to only 5 percent of whites, report they or someone in their household were unable to find their polling place.
- 7 percent of black Americans and 9 percent of Hispanics, compared to only 4 percent of whites, report they or someone in their household were harassed while trying to vote.
- Eleven percent of Americans, including roughly one in six black (16 percent) and Hispanic Americans (16 percent), say that a member of their household was unable to get off work the last time they tried to vote.
- The Popular Vote is Quite Popular: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe presidential elections should be decided based upon the popular vote. Thirty-two percent support the Electoral College. Eighty-one percent of Democrats believe presidential elections should be decided based on the popular vote compared to 46 percent of Republicans.
- The 2018 Midterm Elections:
- If the 2018 elections were held today, 53 percent of registered voters would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district, compared to just 42 percent who would vote for the Republican.
- A majority (52 percent) of black Americans say they are certain to vote. Black Americans are also nearly three times more likely than whites (27 percent vs. 10 percent) to say that all their friends plan on voting.
- However, another important Democratic constituency, young people, reports being relatively disengaged at this point. Only 28 percent of young Americans (age 18-29) say they are absolutely certain to vote in the 2018 midterm elections.
The 2018 Voter Engagement Survey was conducted by PRRI in partnership with The Atlantic among a random sample of adults (age 18 and up) living in the United States and who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel. The survey included a national sample of 1,032 people representing all 50 states as well as oversamples of respondents in Illinois (638), Ohio (608), Michigan (595), Minnesota (426), and Wisconsin (445). Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between June 6 and June 18, 2018. The survey was made possible by generous grants from The Joyce Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and The McKnight Foundation. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 3.3 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.2