Two different electorates are getting ready to vote for president this year, and the difference isn’t just in preference for whom to vote, but in preference on how to vote.
In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, most of those supporting the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, expect to vote by mail (59%), while most of those favoring President Donald Trump expect they will vote in person on election day (61%).
Many voters may not be clear on what the rules are in their state. In most states, at least one respondent said they believed every voter in their state receives a mail-in ballot (only five states cast all votes by mail; three other states and the District of Columbia have decided to mail a ballot to all voters this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic). The process of mail-in ballots has become politicized: the president has vowed to take legal action against Nevada, one of the three states that adopted mail-in balloting for this election.
And Republicans overwhelmingly believe that vote by mail means fraud. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) think voting by mail results in “a lot” of fraud, more than four times the percentage of Democrats who say this. As for in-person voting fraud, only 16 percent overall expect a lot of fraud. Expectations of fraud may come with every election: three-quarters of the public expect at least some fraud with each method of voting.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some states, like Nevada, to provide ballots to all eligible voters. Other states are sending absentee voting applications to those on the voter rolls. That gets more approval (49%) than disapproval (32%), but there are enormous political differences. Three-quarters of Democrats (75%) approve of sending applications for mail-in ballots to every eligible voter in their state, and a majority (58%) of Republicans say that state governments should not.
The success of vote by mail relies on the ability of the US Postal Service to deliver mail to voters and the election officials in a timely manner. In most states, absentee ballots must be received by Election Day (though in a few states, like Washington State, they must only be postmarked by Election Day; in those states, winners may not be known in close races for a week or more after the election). The Postal Service is well-liked overall, with about seven in 10 Americans (72%) seeing the organization favorably. One in five (20%) members of the public see the US Postal Service unfavorably.
But there are doubts about the ability of the USPS to do its job. Nearly one in three (31%) give the Postal Service only a fair or poor job performance rating. Most registered voters are at least somewhat confident that the Postal Service will deliver ballots in time for them to be counted, but nearly a third of all voters have not much or no confidence that will happen. Half of those who say they will vote to re-elect President Trump are not very or not confident, compared with fewer than one in five Biden supporters.How confident are voters that their own vote will be counted, and that the election will be held fairly? There is more faith in the former. Three in five registered voters have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence their individual vote will be counted accurately, but only two in five think the overall election will be held fairly.
On both questions, the President’s supporters are less confident than those currently supporting Biden.
President Trump has suggested postponing the election because of the pandemic and the increased reliance on vote by mail (a change he does not have the Constitutional authority to make). Most voters, whomever they support, don’t think his proposal is a good idea. Just 15 percent support it, including just one in four of those voters who intend to vote for the President’s re-election.
Methodology: This Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US registered voters interviewed online between August 2 – 4, 2020. This sample was 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, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.3% for the overall sample.