Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state and congressional elections. Democrats are trying to make a big issue of voting rights and procedural reform. They have a problem.
First, Americans are clearly focused on issues such as inflation and coronavirus. Just 6 percent in the latest AP/NORC poll volunteered “voting laws, voter fraud, or voting issues” as the top problem the government should be working on in 2022.
Second, most Americans have not been paying much attention to the debate on the legislation. The latest NPR/Ipsos poll explored public awareness of various voting reforms included in the legislation without mentioning the legislation by name. Fifty-three percent said they were very or somewhat familiar with the proposals to allow any eligible voter to vote by mail. This was the only issue tested that showed majority awareness. Forty-four percent were familiar with state proposals reducing access to absentee ballots, limiting early voting times, or reducing the number of voting locations. Forty-one percent were familiar with proposals standardizing voting rules across states, 39 percent with state legislatures changing election laws to give them the power to determine election outcomes, 36 percent with state legislatures limiting the independence of elected election officials, and separately, with proposals moving redistricting authority to nonpartisan commissions. Finally, 32 percent were familiar with proposals to give the vice president the right to decide which electoral votes should be counted. Democrats were more familiar than Republicans with each of these, but the low levels of overall familiarity don’t suggest a groundswell of public interest.
In the Morning Consult/Politico poll, a substantial 28 percent of registered voters responded “don’t know” or “no opinion” when asked whether they supported the Senate’s filibuster rule, and 27 percent gave that response in another question about changing the filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation. In the first of these questions, 42 percent supported the filibuster rule (30 percent were opposed), and in the second one, people were split evenly, 37 percent to 36 percent, about changing it now. I’m less confident about the support and oppose scores than I am about limited public awareness of complexities of the issue.
There is the third reason most Americans may not see the urgency or necessity of passing legislation that would give Washington more control in this area. Neither the NPR poll nor the Morning Consult poll asked Americans about their personal experience with voting, although NPR has asked these questions before in its polling with PBS NewsHour and Marist. As Samantha Goldstein and I showed in a report for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, very few Americans have faced impediments to voting such as being told they didn’t have the correct identification, that they weren’t on the registration list. Very few say they did not receive their mail-in ballot in time. Most Americans say it very easy to vote, and in the Pew Research Center’s trend, most say they are confident their own vote was counted accurately.