Never has the United States Postal Service (USPS) come under such scrutiny as in these last few months.
Capping off a long history of financial struggles, a dire need for funding, and disrupted services due to a global pandemic is another debate: whether to allow universal voting-by-mail for the 2020 presidential election.
Advocates of mail-in voting say it’s a safe, socially distant way to make voting accessible during a hugely important election. Detractors point to potential issues of inaccuracies and fraud.
But what do American consumers think? In the heat of this fight over the future of the USPS, we polled over 2,000 representative internet users to get their perspective.
Our findings reveal how truly polarized the U.S. political climate has become.
The majority of Americans support mail-in voting for all.
Overall support for universal mail-in voting is high. Our research shows that two-thirds of U.S. internet users believe all citizens should be able to vote by mail for the presidential election. Only one in five disagree with this.
But support for mail-in voting varies dramatically along party lines and largely reflects existing political divisions.
Only 51% of Republican voters support mail-in ballots for all, compared with 80% of Democratic voters. Outright opposition is driven by Republican-leaning internet users as well, with 35% of them actively against vote-by-mail.
But support levels vary greatly within the Republican Party, itself, and point to the ever-important role of identity politics in this election.
Among Republicans over the age of 55, nearly 50% actively oppose mail-in voting.
Younger party members are more open to it, with a high degree of uncertainty, rather than total refusal, characterizing their views.
Additionally, lower income and rural Republicans are significantly more likely to oppose mail-in voting, with 45% of rural residents reporting they’re against this system vs. only 26% of urban party dwellers.
Findings like these validate a lot of what we know anecdotally. The Trump administration’s strongest voter base has always been older, white, rural Republicans who feel disenfranchised by the system of elitist Washington politics.
With this group so anti mail-in voting, the suggestion is that the administration’s rhetoric of suspicion and fraud is having its intended effect.
Among Republicans, suspicions of voter fraud run high.
Despite widespread support for mail-in voting, concerns still exist – even among its strongest proponents. For example:
More than two-thirds of Democratic voters express at least some concern about a universal mail-in voting system.
But their biggest worry isn’t necessarily about actual fraud – it’s that the election results could be disputed, and perhaps unjustifiably so.
Their fears are not unfounded. Despite no evidence to support this, the current administration believes mail-in voting would lead to a fraudulent election – more specifically, to “the most INACCURATE and FRAUDULENT election in history,”
A contested election is worrying for Republicans too, but it’s not at the top of the list – legitimate forms of fraud are.
Among Republicans, 56% are concerned about fraud when counting ballots. This is compared to 32% of Democrats. And among older Republicans, the concern is especially dramatic; 7 out of 10 over 55s worry about fraudulent vote counting. Similarly, Republicans are over twice as likely as Democrats to see verifying voter identity as a potential issue with mail-in voting.
Safety is a factor for all – but voter turnout is a big consideration for the Dems.
From the beginning, it was the coronavirus pandemic that brought vote-by-mail to the table as an option for this election. As such, perceived benefits understandably center around safety – and our research reflects this.
Among all internet users in the U.S., 6 in 10 believe that reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure to the public is a clear benefit of mail-in voting, surpassing all other potential positive outcomes.
But like all of these views, the split down political lines tells the most interesting story. While 69% of Democrat-leaning Americans see this benefit to public health, less than half of Republicans agree.
But mail-in voting is likely to have knock-on effects beyond pandemic safety, and these could impact voter behaviors longer term.
Increasing voter turnout overall is one positive outcome that’s widely discussed by advocates for voting-by-mail, and one-third of all U.S. internet users also recognize this. Higher-income and, especially, university-educated Americans are even more likely to see this as a positive outcome.
When looking at Democrats vs. Republicans, clear differences emerge yet again.
While 45% of Democrats see mail-in ballots as having a positive impact on voter turnout, only 23% of Republicans agree.
These point to deeper issues around voting access – and, consequently, voter suppression – as a campaign tactic. Republican politicians, strategists, and even President Trump have remarked that mail-in voting hurts Republican chances because it increases overall voter turnout – giving many disadvantaged groups, who typically sway Democrat, better access to cast their votes.
Many of the recent attacks on the USPS, both vocally and through defunding efforts, can be traced to this voter suppression, as the President has openly stated. In this case, the discrepancy among consumer groups aligns with whose party stands to benefit, and whose stands to lose.
What happens in November?
Anyone following the media cycle will be familiar with the controversies plaguing the USPS – from assurances by the postmaster general to prioritize election mail, to more recent investigations into that same postmaster over a fundraising scheme to benefit Republicans.
So while the debate around mail-in voting will genuinely affect voter turnout, exactly how this plays out is anyone’s guess.
Ultimately, mail-in voting is just one factor in a dramatic, highly consequential election – one that’s being watched the world over. Through our research, we’ll continue to explore consumer perspectives on critical issues, such as this one, leading up to November.