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Americans Oppose Many Voting Restrictions — But Not Voter ID Laws

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Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a sweeping package of voting restrictions into law in Georgia. The new regulations — including a ban on giving food and water to voters in line and an ID requirement for absentee voting — drew harsh condemnation from Democrats, voting-rights advocates and corporations for making voting more arduous, particularly for Black voters who will be disproportionately affected. And alarmingly, the laws appear to be inspired by a baseless belief in rampant voter fraud in the 2020 election and designed to make it easier for Republicans to win elections in the future.


The new voting restrictions many states are considering

But how many Americans buy into the Republican argument that more “election security” is needed, and how many believe that these laws are undemocratic? On the surface, at least, they are closely divided on the issue of voting access. According to a YouGov/The Economist poll from March 20-23, Americans narrowly oppose “laws that would make it more difficult to vote,” 44 percent to 39 percent. But of course, that’s an extremely broad categorization that covers everything from laws cleaning up the voter rolls to those outright banning no-excuse absentee voting and slashing polling places. Reality is more nuanced: Americans are fine with some voting restrictions but balk at others.

An “I Voted” sticker covered by blue, red, and gray dots so much that it’s almost fully obscured.

related: The States Where Efforts To Restrict Voting Are Escalating Read more. »

For instance, public opinion is strongly against perhaps the most controversial provision of Georgia’s new law: the prohibition on giving food or water to people waiting in line to vote. In a different, March 29 poll, YouGov found that only 18 percent of Americans thought handing out food and water should be illegal, while 69 percent thought it should be allowed.

Likewise, in the most recent YouGov/The Economist poll (conducted March 27-30), only 33 percent of Americans agreed with the part of Georgia’s new law that makes ballot drop boxes only accessible during early-voting hours. By contrast, 44 percent thought drop boxes should be open at all times. Drop boxes were also popular within Georgia itself. Back in January, a University of Georgia/Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found that Georgia registered voters opposed banning them 59 percent to 37 percent. While the new law didn’t go that far, it did make them a lot less useful by mandating that they be located inside early-voting centers.

On the other hand, the public strongly supports one of the other major stipulations of Georgia’s new law: the ID requirement for absentee voting. That latest YouGov/The Economist poll found that Americans support requiring a photo ID in order to vote absentee, 53 percent to 28 percent. And Georgians are even more supportive: 74 percent of registered voters in the UGA/AJC poll backed requiring voters to include a copy of their photo ID or other documentation in order to vote by mail. Only 22 percent were opposed.1

Indeed, voter ID laws — which Republicans have pushed for years — are quite popular in general. In another national poll out this week from Selzer & Co./Grinnell College, 56 percent of adults favored keeping laws that require people to show a photo ID before voting, while just 36 percent wanted to eliminate them. And this isn’t an opinion Americans suddenly adopted amid 2020’s specious claims of voter fraud. In fall 2018, the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of Americans favored requiring everyone to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote, versus only 23 percent who opposed it. 

One voting restriction that Georgia did not end up enacting was requiring voters to have an excuse in order to vote absentee. Politically, it seems to have been a wise choice to kill that: According to the UGA/AJC poll, Georgians opposed the proposal 55 percent to 43 percent. Nationally, YouGov/The Economist found a nation divided over whether anyone should be able to vote by mail (44 percent) or only people who are unable to vote in person (42 percent), but that poll is an outlier. Selzer/Grinnell found that Americans favor keeping laws that allow mail voting 56 percent to 34 percent, and Pew last year found that 65 percent of the country believed that voters should not need a documented reason to be allowed to vote early or absentee. That wasn’t just because of the pandemic, either: In Pew’s 2018 poll, that number was 71 percent.


‘There’s a reason why … (GOP has) tried to make it harder for people to vote’: Silver

That said, Georgia’s new law does prevent election officials from actively encouraging absentee voting by prohibiting mailing absentee-ballot applications to voters who don’t request them — something the secretary of state did in last year’s primary in order to encourage mail voting amid the pandemic. According to the UGA/AJC poll, Georgia seems to be split right down the middle on this prohibition: 49 percent are against it and 47 percent are for it. But the public is more firmly against more aggressive promotions of absentee voting, at least on the national level. For example, respondents to the YouGov/The Economist poll opposed mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters (which nine states and Washington, D.C., did in 2020), 59 percent to 24 percent. And per Pew, back in 2018, Americans opposed conducting all elections by mail, 65 percent to 34 percent.

Georgia is hardly the only state where legislators are considering changing voting laws — either to make them stricter or, in many cases, more accessible. But the complicated public opinion on voting issues just goes to show that not all voting reforms are viewed the same way — and neither party should assume the public is fully on their side.

Other polling bites

  • Washington’s consternation over potentially abolishing the Senate filibuster doesn’t appear to be shared by the American people. According to a YouGov/Yahoo News poll, 36 percent of adults support ending the filibuster, while only 27 percent oppose it. A whopping 37 percent are unsure. That may be because only 34 percent of adults say they know “a lot” about how the filibuster works; 40 percent say they’ve heard of the filibuster but don’t know how it works, while 26 percent say they know “nothing” about the filibuster.
  • For the first time in more than 80 years of Gallup polling, fewer than half of Americans say they are a member of a church, synagogue or mosque: 47 percent, down from 70 percent as recently as 1999. The drop is driven by generational change: While 66 percent of those born before 1946 are still members of a house of worship, only 36 percent of millennials (born 1981-1996) are. That’s roughly the same as the share of millennials with no religious affiliation (31 percent).
  • It’s not news that Americans are frustrated with government, but it’s still sobering to see it quantified. According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of Americans are “not too” or “not at all” satisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S. (only 45 percent of Americans are at least somewhat satisfied with it). In addition, 67 percent of Americans think the phrase “most politicians are corrupt” describes their country well. Both numbers are higher in the U.S. than in the three other countries Pew surveyed: the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
  • Thursday was the first day of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, which will look pretty different from past seasons thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. To the approval of 62 percent of MLB fans (per a recent Ipsos poll), every team except the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros will open stadiums to less than half capacity to start the season. But MLB will not mandate proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to attend a game, despite 67 percent of fans supporting such a requirement. 
  • Thursday was also April Fool’s Day, a day that this year saw Bud Light “introduce” a pizza-flavored seltzer and the Chicago Bears “trade for” a star quarterback. Probably only about half of Americans appreciated these gags, though: According to YouGov, only 45 percent of adults think April Fool’s Day pranks are generally funny, while 47 percent are no fun and think they’re mostly just annoying.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 54.0 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 39.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +14.4 points). At this time last week, 54.3 percent approved and 39.9 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +14.4 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 53.9 percent and a disapproval rating of 37.1 percent, for a net approval rating of +16.8 points.


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Footnotes

  1. Granted, the “other documentation” makes this a looser restriction than YouGov/The Economist asked about. Georgia’s actual law is somewhere in between: A photo ID is required in order to apply for an absentee ballot, but a Social Security number is sufficient for the casting of the actual ballot.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Nathaniel Rakich is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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