October 29, 2018

Elections in America: Concerns Over Security, Divisions Over Expanding Access to Voting

2. Election security

The public is not highly confident that election systems in the U.S. are secure from hacking and other technological threats. Currently, 45% of Americans say they are at least somewhat confident that U.S. election systems are secure, though just 8% say they are very confident in the security of these systems and 55% say they are not too (37%) or not at all (17%) confident that these systems are secure.

Public has more confidence in security of their state’s election systems than in those around the country_newAmericans express more confidence about election systems in their state: Two-thirds (66%) say they are very or somewhat confident that election systems in their state are secure from hacking and other technological threats (though just 16% say they are very confident). A third (33%) of adults are not too or not at all confident in the security of their state.

At the federal level, most do express confidence that efforts are being made to protect election systems: 55% say they are at least somewhat confident that the federal government is making serious efforts to protect election systems from hacking and other technological threats.

And 63% say they are very or somewhat confident that their state government is making serious efforts to protect election systems – roughly the same share as expresses confidence that their state’s systems are currently secure.

Republicans express greater confidence in the security of election systems than DemocratsIn general, Republicans express greater confidence than Democrats in the security of election systems and in the seriousness with which government officials are treating the threat of hacking and other technological threats. This is especially true at the national level: Republicans and Republican leaners are 25 percentage points more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say they are very or somewhat confident that election systems in the U.S. are secure (59% vs. 34%), and they are 29 percentage points more likely to say that the federal government is making serious efforts to protect these systems (72% vs. 43%).

The overall gap between Republicans and Democrats is somewhat smaller at the state level. Three-quarters (75%) of Republicans say they are at least somewhat confident that election systems in their state are secure, compared with 60% of Democrats who say this. The partisan gap is nearly identical when it comes to Americans’ views of the efforts their state is taking to protect election systems.

There is little overall difference in levels of public confidence in the security of state election systems between states where the governor and chambers of the state legislature are controlled by Republicans, Democrats or where control is shared between the two parties. However, the confidence that partisans express in state government does vary with partisan control of state government.

Democrats in Republican-controlled states are least confident in election security measuresFor example, 79% of Republicans living in Republican-controlled states say they are very or somewhat confident in the security of their state’s election systems. But among Republicans in states under Democratic control, a smaller majority (69%) express confidence that their state’s election systems are secure. (See appendix for details on state party control classification.)

The Democratic difference is similar: In Democratic-controlled states, 67% of Democrats are at least somewhat confident in the security of their state’s election systems. This drops to 55% among Democrats in GOP- controlled states.

The resulting partisan gap in confidence is much wider in GOP-controlled states than in Democratic-controlled states. In Republican-controlled states, Republicans are 24 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say they are at least somewhat confident election systems are secure from hacking (79% vs. 55%), while there is virtually no partisan difference in these views in states with a Democratic governor and Democratic control of the state legislature (69% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats express confidence).

The pattern is similar when it comes to confidence that state governments are making serious efforts to protect election systems from hacking and other technological threats: In GOP-controlled states, Republicans are 25 percentage points more likely than Democrats to they say they are at least somewhat confident their state government is making serious efforts to protect these systems. Democrats are 8 percentage points more likely than Republicans to say this in Democratic-controlled states.

Wide partisan gap in views about foreign attempts to influence midterm

Most expect foreign governments will try to influence the 2018 electionTwo-thirds (67%) of the public says that it is very or somewhat likely that Russia or other foreign governments will attempt to influence the U.S. congressional elections in November. Among those who say it is at least somewhat likely, 71% view attempts by foreign governments to influence the elections as a major problem. And there are large partisan divides in both the perceptions of the likelihood of foreign interference and the extent to which this is viewed as a major problem.

Eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners say that it is at least somewhat likely that Russia or other foreign governments will attempt to influence the midterms, including 43% who say this is very likely. By comparison, 53% of Republicans say this is at least somewhat likely, and just 20% say it is very likely.

Among those who see election influence as ‘likely,’ wide partisan gap in concernAmong those who expect that Russia or other governments will attempt to influence the election, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say this is a major problem (83% compared with 47%).

There is a strong relationship between people’s assessments of the likelihood of foreign interference and the degree to which they say that this interference is a problem: 87% of those who say it is very likely that foreign governments will attempt to influence the election also say that these attempts are a major problem, compared with 56% who say this is only somewhat likely.

Even among those who say it is very likely that foreign governments will attempt to influence the midterms, there is a sizable partisan gap in the share who say this is a major problem. More than nine-in-ten Democrats (94%) who say foreign governments are very likely to try to influence the midterms describe these attempts as a major problem. By contrast, among Republicans who think attempted foreign influence is very likely, 67% say it is a major problem.

Most say technology companies have responsibility to prevent the misuse of their platforms to influence the election

Few are confident tech companies will prevent ‘misuse’ of platforms in electionAbout three-quarters of the public (76%) say that technology companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google have a responsibility to prevent the misuse of their platforms to influence the U.S. elections in November. However, Americans express little confidence that these companies will do so.

Wide majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say technology companies have a responsibility to prevent misuse of their platforms to influence the 2018 elections: 72% of Republicans and Republican leaners and 80% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this.

Both Republicans and Democrats have doubts that these companies will be able to prevent the misuse of their platforms. Just a third of the public (33%), including 27% of Republicans and 37% of Democrats, say they are at least somewhat confident in these technologies to prevent the misuse of their platforms.