As the number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to rise, the question looms of how the Presidential Election scheduled for November the 3rd can be conducted amid the current public health crisis. Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest polling finds that 36% of the US public intends to vote by mail, whereas 21% intends to vote in-person prior to Election Day and 34% in-person on Election Day.
While voting by mail is anticipated to become more popular because of the current public health risk, early voting has been rising since 2004. In the 2016 Presidential election, over 41% of ballots were cast before Election Day, divided between 17% who voted in-person but early, and 24% who voted by mail. Among those who intend to vote by mail for the upcoming 2020 election, 23% have never voted by mail before.
Redfield & Wilton Strategies has also been researching six key swing states that are likely to determine the results of the election: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Widely divergent proportions across six states (between 22-63%) intend on voting by mail, despite the fact that voters can request a mail ballot without providing a specific reason such as health or travel in all six states.
The state with the highest percentage of respondents intending to vote by mail was Arizona (63%), and the state with the lowest percentage was North Carolina (22%).
Age-related trends vary between swing states. For example, in North Carolina, younger residents are the most likely to request a mail ballot, but the proportion then decreases as respondents get older. On the other hand, in Arizona, older residents are the more likely to say they will vote by mail.
Across the nation, likely Biden voters are far more likely (50%) to vote by mail than likely Trump voters (22%). The same is true in the six swing states, where Biden voters are more likely to vote by mail by a gap of 14 to 30 points, depending on the state. Uptake for mail voting among likely Trump voters is particularly low in North Carolina at 9%. Even in Arizona, where 50% of likely Trump voters say they intend to vote by mail, this proportion is surpassed by the 77% of likely Biden voters who intend to cast a mail ballot.
The higher rates of voting by mail among Biden voters are likely due to the fact that they are more concerned about coronavirus than Trump voters. 50% of likely Biden voters would be uncomfortable voting in-person as a result of the coronavirus, compared to 22% of Trump voters.
According to our latest voting intention poll, we see that Donald Trump has a considerable lead among those voting in-person on Election Day, yet finds himself behind among those voting by mail, a finding echoed in our swing states voting intention poll in July.
President Donald Trump in particular has vocally opposed universal mail-in voting, pushing for a nuanced distinction between universal mail-in voting (whereby all voters on the voter rolls are automatically sent a ballot) and absentee ballots (whereby voters themselves have to request a mailed ballot, if they want one). As the President has argued, voter rolls are sometimes inaccurate, meaning many ballots returned from a universal mail-in voting election could turn out be invalid.
Others have contested this distinction as disingenuous, pointing out that several states already practice universal mail-in voting and therefore see Donald Trump’s criticism as an attempt at voter suppression. The President has received further censure at reports of both him and First Lady Melania Trump requesting absentee ballots to vote in their primary residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump’s strategy is reflective of the public’s lack of clarity about the distinction between absentee ballots and mail-in voting: 35% believe there is a substantial difference, 43% believe there was no difference, and 22% are unsure.
Another potential challenge to larger-scale mail-in voting could be the state of the United States Postal Service (USPS), which has been running multi-billion dollar deficits for years. President Trump cited underfunding as the reason USPS would be unable to handle a flood of mail-in ballots for the November election.
However, twenty Democratic Attorney Generals have sued President Trump, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, and USPS for the recent changes made to USPS’ service, which they claim have reduced reliability. These changes include eliminating overtime, instructing carriers to leave mail behind, removing mailboxes, reducing operating hours, and changing how election mail is classified and charged. This week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urged the House to ‘save the post office’ by means of the Delivering for America Act, which would secure an additional $25 billion in funding to ensure mail-in voting can operate smoothly.
Despite this, the majority (55-66%) of voters across the six swing states agree that the USPS is reliable and can be trusted to deliver all election ballots quickly and to the correct destination.
Responses to this question were split according to political party with only 36-49% of likely Trump voters agreeing that the USPS is reliable and can be trusted to deliver election ballots compared to 75-82% of likely Biden voters.
The more comfortable people were with voting in-person, the less likely they were to trust USPS with carrying election ballots. 61-85% of those who feel very uncomfortable to vote in-person agreed that USPS was reliable versus 43-52% of those who say they are very comfortable voting in-person despite the pandemic.
Beyond the USPS being slow, Trump argued that universal mail-in voting opens the door to fraud and puts the democratic integrity of the election at risk. Voter fraud appears to be a key concern with 50% of the US public agreeing that a universal ballot system would provide more of an opportunity for electoral fraud than absentee voting, compared to just 24% who disagree.
72% of likely Trump voters expressed fraud concerns compared to 34% of likely Biden voters. Concern also varied by state with 35-55% of voters in the swing states agreeing universal mail-in voting provided too much of a chance for electoral fraud.
Given that some states already send ballots to all of their voters, there are growing calls for the 2020 election to be conducted exclusively by mail. 49% of the US public support conducting the November election exclusively by mail-in voting, versus 28% who oppose.
Opinion was split along party lines, with a universal mail-in election receiving the support of 71% of likely Biden voters but only of 28% of likely Trump voters.
Universal mail-in voting garnered the support of majorities in Arizona (62%) and Florida (51%), pluralities in Pennsylvania (44%), Michigan (48%) and Wisconsin (48%), and a minority (38%) in North Carolina.
Those who were more comfortable voting in person were less likely to support universal mail-in voting for this election. 82% of those who say they would feel very uncomfortable voting in person also say that they would support universal mail-in voting, compared to only 36% of those who feel very comfortable voting in person.
A plurality (46%) of the US public feel that the concerns Trump has raised about mail-in voting are unfounded compared to 29% who disagree. Responses to this were highly partisan with 80% of likely Biden voters and 25% of likely Trump voters agreeing that Trump’s concerns are unfounded, however it is significant that even some likely Trump voters disagree with him.
Even if individuals would prefer mail-in voting, there appears to be a strong sentiment that the election should go ahead regardless of the pandemic. 63% of the US public agree that it is possible to enforce social distancing measures at polling stations in order to conduct an in-person election without creating a health risk. 84% of likely Trump voters and 53% of likely Biden voters agreed that this would be possible. Even among Biden voters who typically have increased concerns about the health risks of coronavirus, only 25% feel that it is not possible to hold a socially-distanced in-person election.
Failing an agreement on absentee and mail-in voting between Democrats and Republicans, it is possible that Election Day in November will end with considerable uncertainty over the outcome of the election, especially if fraud concerns are raised.