In dramatic shift, half of Americans fear difficulties voting in November election, poll says
WASHINGTON — As the U.S. battles a global pandemic and President Donald Trump fights widespread mail-in voting, nearly half of registered voters, 49%, expect to have difficulties casting a ballot in the November presidential election.
It's a dramatic spike in fears about voting from the 2018 midterm election when only 15% of voters said they anticipated difficulties.
The findings, outlined in a new poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, come as most states have taken action to expand mail-in voting opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic ahead of November. Trump has opposed "universal mail-voting" and resisted a Democratic proposal to increase funding for the U.S. Postal Service during the pandemic – money that Democrats argue is needed to handle the expected deluge of mail-in ballots.
Fifty percent of registered voters said they expected it to be either very or somewhat easy to vote, according to the new poll, down from 85% in October 2018.
There's a deep partisan divide on the question. Sixty percent of voters who support Democratic challenger Joe Biden said they believe voting will be difficult in November, compared with 40% who said it would be easy. In 2018, only 17% of Democratic voters anticipated voting difficulties and 83% predicted it would be easy.
Among Trump supporters, 35% said they believe it will be difficult to vote in the November election and 64% said it would be easy. In 2018, 10% of Republican voters believed it would be difficult to vote and 90% anticipated it would be easy.
Jocelyn Kiley, associate director at the Pew Research Center, declined to speculate on what's fueling so many Americans to believe it will be difficult to vote. But she pointed to the differing viewpoints among voters of the two major parties.
"There's more of a partisan split than there was two years ago," Kiley said, noting that Democrats were also more likely than Republicans to say the pandemic might disrupt voting in a poll the Pew Research Center took in the spring.
"(Joe) Biden supporters are more likely to express concerns about the coronavirus, more likely to say the coronavirus will impact the ability to vote in the fall and they are also more likely to expect voting in the November election will be difficult," Kiley said. "There's a through-line there."
Several states are allowing the coronavirus to be a reason to request a ballot or sending ballot applications – and in some cases ballots – to all registered voters. The coronavirus outbreak forced the elimination of many voting sites during recent primaries, creating long line in some states.
Trump has claimed without evidence that "universal mail-voting" will lead to more voter fraud. In opposing funds for the U.S. Postal Service that Democrats have included in a coronavirus relief bill, Trump noted Thursday it would starve the agency of money tied to the expected surge in mail-in ballots.
"They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump said on the Fox Business Network. "If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it."
Biden leads Trump by 8 points, poll finds
The Pew Research Center poll, conducted July 27 to Aug. 2, was a survey of 11,001 panelists who took part in web surveys managed by Ipsos. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.
In a head-to-head presidential match-up, the poll found Biden leading Trump 53%-45% among registered voters. But the poll found Trump with a major enthusiasm advantage –a consistent pattern throughout the race.
Two-thirds of Trump's supporters, 66%, said they support Trump "strongly," while only 46% of Biden supporters said they support the former vice president "strongly."
Trump continues to be hurt politically by the coronavirus pandemic, however. A Monmouth University Poll released Thursday found that 52% of Americans believe that other countries have handled the pandemic better than the U.S. and just 15% of voters believe the U.S. is doing a better job than others.
Democrats, who have advocated for mail-voting during the pandemic, are much more willing to vote by mail, the Pew Research Center poll found.
Eighty-percent of voters who back Trump would rather vote in-person, either on Election Day (60%) or earlier (20%). Just 17% said they prefer to vote by mail. But a majority of Biden supporters, 58%, said they prefer to vote by mail in the presidential election.
Despite concerns about voting, Americans believe this election is the most important in the two decades that the Pew Research has conducted surveys. The poll found 83% of voters believe it "really matters" who is elected, the highest in the last 20 years, and 9 percentage points more than the 74% who said it "really matters" in 2016. In 2000, only 50% of voters said it "really matters" who wins the election.
In a sign of the high stakes for Democrats, the poll found Biden supporters would be far more "angry" if their candidate loses.
Sixty-one percent of Biden supporters said they would be "angry" if their candidate loses, compared with 37% of Trump supporters who said they would be "angry" if Trump loses. Thirty-seven percent of Biden supporters said they would be "disappointed" if Biden lost while 59% of Trump supporters said they would be "disappointed."
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.