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Americans Mostly Support Voting By Mail

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

How do you hold an election during a pandemic? Most states are encouraging voters to cast their ballots by mail this November to avoid spreading the coronavirus, and some of them are revising their election laws to make that easier.

Under normal circumstances, 34 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have allowed people to vote absentee for any reason, including five that conduct vote-by-mail elections by default (i.e., every voter is automatically mailed a ballot). But as of Thursday, at least 41 states are allowing anyone to vote absentee this fall, including seven states and Washington, D.C., that will mail voters ballots by default. That leaves approximately 54 million eligible voters across nine states who must provide an excuse to vote absentee this fall (though some of those states may still change their laws before Election Day).

And a new poll out this week found the American people largely supportive of efforts to expand absentee voting. According to the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of adults said that any voter should be able to vote early or absentee without an excuse. Furthermore, an additional 14 percent thought a documented reason should be required, but that COVID-19 should count as one of the reasons. As a result, only 19 percent of Americans believed that voters should need an excuse other than the pandemic to vote absentee.

However, as on so many other issues, Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on this. While a whopping 83 percent of Democrats supported no-excuse absentee voting (and another 11 percent thought COVID-19 should be a valid excuse), only 44 percent of Republicans thought so. Another 17 percent thought COVID-19 should be an acceptable excuse, but that still left 37 percent of Republicans believing voters must provide a non-pandemic-related excuse to vote absentee.

You might be tempted to chalk up this divide to President Trump’s recent rants against voting by mail. And according to another poll released this week, from ABC News/The Washington Post, 78 percent of Trump supporters do see mail-in voting as “vulnerable to significant levels of fraud.” (It’s not.) But absentee-voting access has actually long been a partisan issue: The party splits in the Pew poll were similar in October 2018. (That said, Republican opposition to no-excuse absentee voting has grown a bit since then.)

However, just because voters want the option to vote absentee doesn’t mean they’ll actually do it. The ABC News/Washington Post poll also found that 59 percent of Americans would prefer to vote in person in this year’s election, while 38 percent would prefer to vote by mail.1 And there were stark differences along demographic lines, which could put heightened stress on our democracy this November.

For instance, Republican respondents told ABC News/The Washington Post that they preferred to vote in person, 79 percent to 20 percent. But Democratic respondents preferred to vote by mail, 51 percent to 46 percent. That could mean that votes cast in person will skew toward Republicans this fall, while mail-in votes skew toward Democrats. And since in-person votes are typically reported first on election night, that could mean that initial results on Nov. 3 will be overly favorable to Trump — perhaps causing him to claim victory prematurely. But Biden could actually turn out to be the winner days after Election Day in this scenario, as mailed ballots are counted and Democratic votes are added to the till. This could cause a national crisis if Trump decries those late-counted ballots as fraudulent or if he refuses to concede.

In addition, the poll found that college-educated and wealthier voters were more comfortable voting by mail. Specifically, respondents with postgraduate degrees said they preferred voting by mail 54 percent to 44 percent; those with just a four-year college degree were split 49 percent to 49 percent. Respondents with less than four years of college said they preferred to vote in person, 59 percent to 37 percent, and respondents with a high school diploma or less opted for in-person voting 68 percent to 29 percent. As a result, underprivileged voters could be disproportionately affected if the pandemic forces the closure or consolidation of polling places this November, either putting them at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 while waiting in line or disenfranchising them altogether.

Other polling bites

  • According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 60 percent of parents with schoolchildren wanted schools to wait to restart in-person classes, while only 34 percent wanted schools to reopen sooner. This preference was largely driven by parents of color, 91 percent of whom were worried that their child will catch COVID-19 if schools reopen. Only 55 percent of white parents shared that concern.
  • A Morning Consult poll found that the vast majority of Americans — 72 percent — supported mandating face masks in public spaces in their state (and imposing penalties for those who refused to do so). Despite perceptions that wearing a mask has become a partisan issue, even Republicans supported the policy, 58 percent to 35 percent.
  • According to another part of the ABC News/Washington Post poll, a record 69 percent of Americans said that they think white and nonwhite people do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system; only 26 percent said they do receive equal treatment. Black respondents have long held this view in ABC News/Washington Post polling, but for the first time, so did a majority of white people.
  • As evidenced by the fact that Opening Day was yesterday (four months late), this year’s Major League Baseball season will look a little different from usual. Most obviously, the season will only have 60 games — down from the standard 162 — but it will still crown a World Series champion. According to Morning Consult, though, a plurality of fans think the 2020 champion deserves an asterisk. Forty-four percent of baseball fans said that winning the World Series in a shortened season will be less meaningful than winning after a full regular season, while 35 percent believed it would be just as meaningful. (In reality, a 60-game season isn’t that much worse at assessing a team’s true talent than a 162-game season — but neither is perfect.)

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 40.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 55.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -15.3 points). At this time last week, 40.3 percent approved and 55.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -15.2 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -14.3 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 8.2 percentage points (49.4 percent to 41.2 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 8.3 points (49.0 percent to 40.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 8.2 points (48.7 percent to 40.5 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Footnotes

  1. It’s worth noting that that wording is a bit ambiguous. I would prefer to eat cheeseburgers and chocolate ice cream for every meal, but that doesn’t mean I actually do it or think it’s a good idea.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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