October 29, 2018

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

3. The public’s voting values

In broad terms, the public backs doing more to make it easy to vote in the U.S. And most do not believe that making it easier to vote necessarily compromises election security. But while the public favors making it easier to vote, there is little support for the idea that voting in the U.S. should be mandatory.

As with many policy attitudes, there are stark partisan gaps in views on voting. Republicans are divided on whether steps should be taken to make voting easier, and a majority thinks any changes toward making it more accessible would make elections less secure. Democrats overwhelmingly say voting should be made easier and do not think this would jeopardize election security.

Voting attitudes also are independently tied to views of the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity. In both partisan groups, those with neutral or negative views of the country’s changing makeup are significantly less likely to favor taking steps to make it easier to vote than those who take a positive view of growing diversity in the U.S.

Public supports making early, absentee voting broadly available to voters

Most say ‘everything possible’ should be done to make it easy for all to voteOverall, two-thirds (67%) say that everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote, while fewer (32%) say citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time.

Consistent with the public’s broad support for making it easy to vote, most Americans say all voters should be able to vote early or absentee: About seven-in-ten (71%) say that “any voter should have the option to vote early or absentee without having to document a reason;” 28% say that “a voter should only be allowed to vote early or absentee if they have a documented reason for not voting in person on Election Day.”

There are wide partisan differences in attitudes about making it easier to vote. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, an overwhelming majority (84%) say that everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote. By contrast, Republicans and Republican leaners are divided: 48% say steps should be taken to make it easy for every citizen to vote, compared with 51% who say citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time.

Democrats also are more likely than Republicans to support making access to early and absentee voting universally available: 83% of Democrats favor this, compared with 57% of Republicans.

While the public supports steps to make voting easier, there is little support in either party for making voting mandatory. Among the public overall, 79% say citizens should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to vote in national elections; just 21% support requiring all citizens to vote. Majorities of both Republicans (88%) and Democrats (71%) oppose the idea of mandatory voting.

Is there a trade-off between election security and ease of voting?

Most do not think making it easier to vote would make elections less secureWhen it comes to the ease of voting and election security, the public does not see an inherent trade-off between the two. Six-in-ten say that it would not make elections any less secure if rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote; 37% say that changing the rules to make it easier to register and vote would also make elections less secure.

There is a wide partisan divide on this question. By 57% to 41%, Republicans and Republican leaners think that making it easier to register and vote would lead to less secure elections. By contrast, 76% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say that it would not make elections any less secure if rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote.

Within the GOP, most conservative Republicans (64%) think that changes to make voting easier would lead to less secure elections. By comparison, moderate and liberal Republicans are divided: About as many say making it easier to vote would lead to less secure elections (48%) as say it would not (50%). Among Democrats and Democratic leaners there is a more modest ideological difference: 82% of liberals and 70% of conservatives and moderates do not think making it easier to vote would lead to less secure elections.

Older, more educated are more likely to see voting as having an impact

Younger adults less likely to see voting as affecting how government is runMost Americans view voting as a way to have some influence over government. Nearly seven-in-ten (68%) say that “voting gives people like me some say about how the government runs things”; 31% say that “voting by people like me doesn’t really affect how government runs things.”

Majorities across most groups hold the view that voting gives them a voice in government, but there are differences in how widely this view is held.

The youngest adults (those ages 18 to 29) are the least likely to believe voting gives them some say in government (58%). Larger shares of those 30 to 49 (66%), 50 to 64 (72%) and 65 and older (76%) hold this view.

There also are significant differences in views by level of education. Adults with greater educational attainment are more likely than those with less education to say voting gives them some say over how government is run. For example, 81% of postgraduates say this compared with 60% of those with no more than a high school diploma.

Support for making voting easier linked to demographics, positive views of diversity

Blacks more likely than whites to favor taking action to make it easy to voteAside from partisanship, race and age are factors in views of whether “everything possible” should be done to make it easy to vote.

Blacks (81%) are more likely than Hispanics (69%) and whites (63%) to say that everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote.

Young adults – who are among the least likely to say they feel their vote matters – express some of the strongest support for making voting easier. About three-quarters (76%) of those 18 to 29 say that everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote. This compares with smaller majorities in older age groups.

And support for making it easier to vote is greater among those with higher levels of educational attainment than those with lower levels.

Among partisans, there is a significant ideological divide within the Republican Party, but little difference within the Democratic Party.

A majority of conservative Republicans (63%) say that citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time. By contrast, most moderate and liberal Republicans (65%) say everything should be done to make voting easier. Among Democrats, large majorities of both liberals (89%) and conservatives and moderates (80%) support taking steps to make voting easier.

In addition, there is little difference in Democrats’ views across age or race and ethnicity. For instance, 88% of white Democrats, 83% of black Democrats and 73% of Hispanic Democrats say everything possible should be done to make voting easy. Among Republicans, nonwhites are more likely than whites to say this (66% vs. 44%).

Support for making the voting process easier tied to views on diversity in U.S.Views about how easy it should be to vote are linked to attitudes about racial and ethnic diversity in the country. Those who see growing diversity as a good thing for society are more likely than those who see it as a bad thing, or say it doesn’t make much difference, to say everything should be done to make it easy to vote. And these differences are seen within both parties.

Overall, 78% of those who say greater diversity is good for society think everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote. Far smaller majorities of those who think greater diversity is a bad thing (55%) or makes no difference (53%) for society favor taking steps to make it easy to vote.

Among Republicans, a 57% majority of those who view greater diversity as a good thing say that everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote. By contrast, majorities of Republicans who view greater diversity as a bad thing (57%), or say it doesn’t make much difference (55%) say that citizens should have to prove they want to vote by registering ahead of time.

Most Democrats (71%) view greater diversity in the country as a good thing; 87% of those in this group say that everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote. This is also the dominant view among other Democrats, though smaller majorities of those who view growing diversity as a bad thing (79%) or say it makes no difference (73%) think everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote.

Views of early and absentee voting in states with differing voting laws

Support for early and absentee voting without a documented reason is greater in states that make voting more accessible than in states that do not.

Republicans in states with stricter voter laws oppose ‘no-excuse’ early votingThree-quarters of those in the 37 states (and the District of Columbia) that have early voting, no excuse absentee voting, or voting by mail say that any voter should have the option to vote early or absentee without having to document a reason. This compares with 60% of those living in the 13 states with less accessible voting laws. (See appendix for details on state classification.)

Roughly six-in-ten Republicans in states that do not make early, absentee or mail voting widely available (59%) say that a voter should only be allowed to vote early or absentee if they have a documented reason for not voting in person on Election Day; just 41% say any voter should have the option to vote early or absentee without having to document a reason.

The balance of opinion is reversed among Republicans in states that make non-Election Day voting more accessible: 62% favor early and absentee voting with no excuse required, while just 37% say only those with a documented reason should be allowed to vote early.

An overwhelming majority of Democrats (83%) think early voting should be available to any voter for any reason. This view is somewhat more widespread among Democrats who live in states with more accessible laws (where 86% say this) than among those living in states with less accessible laws (75%).