Normally, “for whom will you vote” is the burning question in an election, but this year, “how will you vote” may be just as important. The coronavirus epidemic drove voting by mail to historic levels in the primaries and has fueled strong interest in it for the November election. Subsequently, President Donald Trump and the Republican Party mounted an aggressive effort to oppose an expansion of mail balloting.
The result: We now see a massive partisan difference – who voters will support for president – when we tabulate by how they want to cast their ballots. YouGov’s most recent surveys conducted for Yahoo News in late June and July show that those who want to vote by mail prefer Joe Biden over Trump by a whopping 70 to 14 percent margin, while those who prefer to vote in person prefer Trump by better than two to one, 59 to 28 percent.
The share that wants to vote by mail is not small. The same two surveys, conducted between June 29 and July 14, find nearly half (45%) of registered voters nationwide say they would prefer to vote by mail, rather than in person. If translated into actual voting behavior, that preference would represent more than double the rate that actually voted by mail in 2016 (21%).
And again, thanks to the aggressive push-back against mail voting by President Trump and his allies, preference for type of voting differs greatly by party identification. By a 75-to–25 percent margin, Republicans (including leaners) prefer to vote by in-person, while a slightly less lopsided 65-to–35 percent margin of Democrats (including leaners) prefers to vote by mail. Non-leaning independents are more divided but narrowly prefer to vote by mail (54% to 46%).
Democrats are slightly more divided on voting method compared with Republicans because of the preferences of Black and Hispanic Democrats. Black Democrats (42%) and Hispanic Democrats (46%) prefer in-person voting compared to white Democrats (29%). These numbers are consistent with concerns expressed by Democratic organizers about the challenge of mail voting within minority communities.
A state’s previous experience with mail voting also influences the way voters want to cast their ballots this year. A preference for mail voting is now unsurprisingly very high (75%) in the five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) that send mail ballots to all registered voters. While more divided elsewhere, a preference for mail voting is significantly higher in states where a voter can request for any reason (50%) than in states where they must offer an excuse, such as illness or travel, for their absence on election day (42%). Economist/YouGov polling conducted in May found a similar pattern by self-reported past experience with mail voting.
The preference for early voting correlates strongly, but not perfectly, with support for allowing postal voting for everyone. In the Yahoo News/YouGov surveys, more than half of Americans (56%) support allowing mail voting for all, nearly twice as many as oppose it (29%). The biggest difference between views on policy and the method voters prefer to use themselves is that Democrats of all stripes are overwhelmingly supportive of making mail voting possible for all (84% for all Democrats and leaners), including Black Democrats (77%) and Hispanic Democrats (83%).
Also notable: Americans in states that have already adopted automatic mail voting are more supportive (69%) of postal voting for all than residents of states with no-excuse on-demand mail voting (56%) and excuse-required mail voting (55%).
Despite Trump’s insistence that mail voting “doesn’t turn out well for Republicans,” there is no evidence that mail voting in previous elections provided a clear advantage to either party. However, the heavily partisan gap in how Americans now want to cast their ballots may have important consequences for 2020.
Some Republican strategists are worried that Trump-inspired antagonism toward mail voting among Republicans will undercut their own turnout efforts. Others worry that a massive shift to mail voting will mean more rejected ballots, thus fewer votes counted, especially among the younger, minority, and first-time voters that generally prefer Democrats.
And, if the current self-reported preference for vote-by-mail translates into reality, the extent to which states count in-person ballots on election night while taking days or weeks to count all of their mail ballots has potentially momentous implications. One candidate may appear to be leading on election night while falling behind as the election count unfolds.
Either way, keeping tabs on how people plan to vote, and not just which candidate they favor, will be critical to watching and understanding the 2020 election.
Explore the latest surveys from the Yahoo News/YouGov Polls
Methodology: The Yahoo! News surveys were conducted by YouGov using nationally representative samples of US adult residents interviewed online between June 29-July 1 (n=1,525) and July 11–14, 2020 (n=1,504). These samples were weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, and news interest. For this analysis, states were classified using permanent voting procedures for mail-in voting compiled by Ballotpedia.