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Four in Five Americans Support Voter ID Laws, Early Voting

Four in Five Americans Support Voter ID Laws, Early Voting
by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • 63% of Americans support automatic voter registration
  • Democrats (85%) most likely to favor early voting
  • Republicans overwhelmingly support voter ID laws (95%)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As partisan-fueled court battles over state voting laws are poised to shape the political landscape in 2016 and beyond, new Gallup research shows four in five Americans support both early voting and voter ID laws. A smaller majority of 63% support automatic voter registration.

Americans' Support for Election Law Policies
In general, do you favor or oppose each of the following election law policies?
Early voting, which gives all voters the chance to cast their ballot
prior to Election Day
Favor: 80%
Oppose: 18%
Requiring all voters to provide photo identification at their voting
place in order to vote
Favor: 80%
Oppose: 19%
Automatic voter registration, whereby citizens are automatically
registered to vote
Favor: 63%
Oppose: 34%
Gallup, Aug. 15-16, 2016

These data come from an Aug. 15-16 Gallup poll.

While providing early voting opportunities and requiring voters to show photo identification at polling stations are popular among a majority of Americans, both are contentiously debated by party leaders and are being contested in state courts. Most recently, a federal judge in Ohio ruled against limiting early voting, saying the move would discriminate against black voters. There are electorally strategic reasons as to why each major political party has a stake in the two contested policies.

Majorities of Democrats and Republicans support early voting, but the option finds more favor among Democrats (85%) than Republicans (74%). Early voting typically benefits Democratic candidates, who have performed well electorally among early voters in many states that allow the option. Blacks and lower-income Americans -- key Democratic support blocs -- disproportionately opt to vote early.

Americans' Support for Election Law Policies, by Party
Do you favor or oppose each of the following election law policies? (% Favor)
Early voting Photo ID requirement Automatic voter registration
% % %
Republicans 74 95 51
Independents 80 83 58
Democrats 85 63 80
Gallup, Aug. 15-16, 2016

Studies have shown that voter ID laws reduce voting among blacks and young adults, who tend to vote Democratic. Many Republican leaders and Republican state legislatures have worked to put them into law. While majorities of Republicans and Democrats favor voter ID laws, Republicans (95%) overwhelmingly support them. Democratic support is more tepid, at 63%. GOP-led states have been the most active proponents of voter ID laws. Republicans who have championed these laws claim they prevent voter fraud, while opponents argue that there are too few cases to justify the legislation.

Meanwhile, a majority of U.S. adults (63%) also favor automatic voter registration, whereby citizens are automatically registered to vote when they do business with the Department of Motor Vehicles or certain other state agencies. This policy, which Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton advocated about a year before her party included it in its official 2016 platform, has been implemented in five states. Although Democrats (80%) are more likely than Republicans (51%) to favor the idea, in April, the Republican-controlled legislature of West Virginia made the state the third to enact automatic voter registration.

Majorities Among Racial Groups, Regions Support Election Laws

Though many of the arguments for early voting and against voter ID laws frequently cite minorities' voting access, nonwhites' views of the two policies don't differ markedly from those of whites. Seventy-seven percent of nonwhites favor both policies, while whites favor each at 81%. Nonwhites are, however, more likely to support automatic voter registration (71%) than are whites (59%).

More than four in five residents of the Midwest, South and West, regions where at least half of states have early voting, support the policy. The East, where the policy is favored least (71%), is unique in that only the District of Columbia and two states -- Maryland and West Virginia -- have a formal process of early voting.

But some states in the region offer alternatives to formal early voting. Three other Eastern states -- Maine, New Jersey and Vermont -- have what the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) refers to as "in-person absentee" voting. This is a less formal process of early voting in which a voter can apply in person for an absentee ballot and immediately cast that ballot before an election. In Massachusetts, early voting is allowed in even-year elections. The region's most populous states, New York and Pennsylvania, have no form of early voting.

Voter ID laws are most popular among residents living in the South (84%) and Midwest (84%), the regions in which eight of the strictest state voter ID laws are enforced, according to the NCSL. Nationally, election laws requiring voter identification exist -- with some variation of the requirement -- in 34 states, 33 of which are in effect for the 2016 election. West Virginia's law goes into effect in 2018.

Americans' Support for Election Law Policies, by Race and Region
Do you favor or oppose each of the following election law policies? (% Favor)
Early voting Photo ID requirement Automatic voter registration
% % %
Whites 81 81 59
Nonwhites 77 77 71
East 71 73 69
Midwest 83 84 56
South 82 84 60
West 81 78 66
Gallup, Aug. 15-16, 2016

Automatic voter registration is most popular in the East (69%) and West (66%), the only regions in which states have enacted it -- including Oregon and California in the West, and Connecticut, Vermont and West Virginia in the East.

The number of states offering automatic voter registration could increase nearly seven-fold, however. In 2016, 29 states and the District of Columbia have considered measures that would put in place some form of the policy.

Majority of Republicans View Voter Fraud as a 'Major' Problem

The survey also asked Americans about their general concern that ineligible voters would cast votes, and that eligible voters would be kept from casting theirs. Americans are fairly split on their degree of concern about votes being cast by people who, by law, are not eligible to vote. More than a third view it as a major problem (36%), while nearly as many view it as either a minor problem (32%) or not a problem at all (29%).

A majority of Republicans (52%) perceive voter fraud as a major problem, which is reflected in the policy stances of many GOP state governors. By contrast, just 26% of Democrats expect ineligible persons voting to be a major problem this year. Southerners (42%) are more likely than those in other regions to view it as a major problem. The South is the most Republican region in the country, and the only region where some variation of a voter ID law is in effect in every state.

Concerns About Voter Fraud and Eligible Voters Not Being Allowed to Vote
In this year's election, do you think each of the following will be a major problem, a minor problem or not a problem at all across the country? (% Major problem)
Votes being cast by people not eligible to vote Eligible voters not being allowed to cast a vote
% %
U.S. adults 36 32
Republicans 52 22
Independents 33 31
Democrats 26 40
Whites 37 25
Nonwhites 35 46
East 34 35
Midwest 34 26
South 42 32
West 33 32
Gallup, Aug. 15-16, 2016

The poll finds a bit narrower partisan gap over the issue of eligible voters not being allowed to cast a vote. Four in 10 Democrats, versus two in 10 Republicans, say keeping eligible voters from voting is a major problem. Mirroring these partisan attitudes, nonwhites are more likely than whites to say it is a problem.

Bottom Line

Despite widespread public support for early voting and voter ID laws -- including majority support among partisans on both sides -- the two parties' leaders often have strong preferences for one and not the other. The political squabbling over efforts to pass or restrict these laws in many states is therefore not representative of public opinion.

A smaller majority of Americans favor automatic voter registration, which could become more popular in the future as more states become acquainted with it. This is likely, as dozens of states have considered the policy in 2016.

In sum, Americans want easier processes for registering to vote and casting their ballots, as well as stronger checks against fraud.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 15-16, 2016, with a random sample of 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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