Assessing Americans’ attitudes about poll workers prior to the 2022 election

Eli McKown-DawsonSurvey Data Journalism Intern
November 03, 2022, 4:24 AM GMT+0

Ahead of the 2022 election, local election officials are struggling to recruit enough poll workers, partially because security threats have led many former poll workers to quit. At the same time, officials worry that some poll workers will attempt to interfere with the election process in pursuit of partisan goals.

Opinions of poll workers

A recent YouGov survey found that 12% of Americans said they had previously served as a poll worker. Most of these people say they have done so multiple times. Half (51%) said they have worked the polls between two and five times, 17% said they had done so between 6 and 10 times, and 15% said more than 10 times. Only 13% said they had served once.

About half (50%) of people who have been poll workers say they worked the polls because they wanted to experience the democratic process when offered that among other options to describe what motivated them. Another 47% say they became poll workers because they thought it was their duty, 37% did so to learn more about politics and government, and 35% worked the polls to make money.

Most Americans who have been poll workers have positive feelings about the experience. When offered a choice of words to describe being a poll worker, 52% say it was rewarding and 45% say it was exciting. Among popular negative adjectives, "exhausting" is chosen by 40% and "nerve-wracking" by 27%. Boring (16%) and frustrating (15%) were the least commonly selected adjectives.

A majority (62%) of U.S. poll workers say that being a poll worker is “somewhat” or “very” easy. Only 38% of U.S. adults say the same, meaning that poll workers think the job is easier than the general population does. However, this difference is primarily driven by a lack of knowledge, as those who have not been poll workers are unsure of the job’s difficulty.

Trust in poll workers

Most Americans report having good experiences with poll workers they've encountered. A majority (53%) said their poll worker was “very” or “somewhat” helpful the last time they voted, and only 9% said they were very or somewhat unhelpful. And most say they trust poll workers to administer a free and fair election.

However, Americans tend to be more trusting of poll workers in their own community than outside of it. Two in three (65%) say they trust their local poll workers “a great deal” or “a moderate amount,” while 56% say the same of all poll workers in the U.S. More Democrats than Republicans find poll workers trustworthy, especially nationally. 73% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans say they trust their local poll workers at least a moderate amount, while 73% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans trust poll workers in the U.S.

Similarly, while 18% of Democrats say they distrust poll workers in the U.S., 41% of Republicans say the same. Independents are the least likely to trust poll workers at both the local (56%) and national (49%) levels. They are also the most uncertain. While between 8% and 10% of Democrats and Republicans are unsure when asked about trust in both groups of poll workers, between 16% and 17% of Independents say the same.

Although most Americans trust their local poll workers, 22% also think poll workers can access voting records to figure out who someone has voted for. Another 30% say they are not sure if poll workers could do so. A majority of Democrats (56%) say poll workers could not access records in this way, compared to 44% of Republicans and 43% of Independents.

There are also differences in poll-worker trust across levels of educational attainment. Americans with a high school degree or less are less likely to think poll workers cannot figure out someone’s vote choice (36%) than those with postgraduate degrees (62%), college degrees (56%), and those who have attended college without completing their four-year degree (51%). Americans without a college degree are also more likely to report being unsure about this.

Poll-worker interference

One in three Americans are worried that poll workers will interfere in the 2022 congressional elections: 36% of U.S. adult citizens said that it is “somewhat” or “very” likely that poll workers will attempt to tamper with the upcoming election, and another 18% said they were not sure. Only 16% of Americans said it was “not at all likely.” Of the 84% who said poll-worker tampering's likelihood was between “not very likely” and “very likely” or were unsure, 30% thought tampering by poll workers would be successful. Another 41% of this group said they were not sure if the poll workers would succeed.

There are substantial differences based on Americans’ party identification in both the belief that poll workers will try to interfere in the election, and the belief that they will succeed in doing so. Republicans are 7 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say that tampering is "very likely," and 11 points more likely to say it is "somewhat likely." Democrats, on the other hand, are 18 points more likely to say it is "not at all likely." Overall, while 46% of Republicans think tampering is at least somewhat likely, only 18% of Democrats say the same.

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to think tampering by poll workers would succeed — even among only the people who identify with each party and don't say tampering is not at all likely. While 36% of this group of Republicans think that poll workers’ tampering would succeed, just 23% of Democrats said the same. Conversely, 40% of Democrats who haven't ruled out tampering, but only 21% of Republicans, said that the poll workers would not be successful. For both the likelihood of tampering and likelihood of poll workers’ success, Republicans are more likely to say they are not sure than Democrats.

Democrats and Republicans are, however, about equally likely to say certain groups of people should be allowed to serve as poll workers. Very few Democrats (13%), Republicans (7%), and Independents (7%) think that a candidate for elected office should be able to work the polls. Members of a candidate’s immediate family and political campaign staff get similarly low levels of support for being poll workers.

Of the groups YouGov asked about, partisanly only significantly disagreed on whether formerly incarcerated felons should be allowed to serve  as poll workers. Almost one-half of Democrats (46%) say a person convicted of a felony should be able to do so, compared to 35% of Independents and 25% of Republicans.

This poll was conducted on October 19 - 24, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Adobe Stock (Seventyfour)