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Research Questions

  1. What are voter perceptions of safety, election integrity, and preparedness about the November 2020 election?
  2. How do voter perceptions vary based on demographic characteristics and political partisanship?
  3. How do those perceptions affect intention to vote?
  4. How do voters perceive different mitigation strategies for voting during a pandemic?

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has presented a severe threat to state election plans in 2020 for primaries and for the general election. To conduct an election during a potentially continuing threat from COVID-19, states need to consider how to conduct voter registration and provide voting options. How voters perceive and respond to these measures could affect turnout. RAND authors analyzed responses from 2,389 survey respondents about their expectations for public safety, election integrity, and the preparedness of local officials to manage the November 2020 election in the pandemic context. Responses indicate that both demographic characteristics and political partisanship influence respondent attitudes toward election safety, integrity, and preparedness. Although most voters say they believe that voting will be safe and that their vote will be counted despite the pandemic, those who question election safety and some who question election integrity appear less likely to vote. This report is part of RAND's Countering Truth Decay initiative, which is focused on restoring the role of facts, data, and analysis in U.S. political and civil discourse and the policymaking process.

Key Findings

A majority of respondents said that they expect that the 2020 election will be physically safe from COVID-19 health risks

  • Despite the acknowledged increased health risk to older voters, that population had higher perceptions of safety and preparedness than did younger voters.

A majority of respondents said that their votes will be counted accurately despite the challenges of the pandemic

  • Self-identified Republicans are more likely than self-identified Democrats to expect elections to be safe and election officials to be prepared, but Republicans express somewhat more concern than Democrats about election integrity (their votes being counted accurately) under pandemic conditions.
  • Black and Hispanic respondents tended to be less likely than White and non-Hispanic respondents to expect their votes to be counted accurately, given the pandemic context.

A majority of respondents said that local officials are prepared to carry out elections successfully

  • Hispanic respondents were less likely than other groups to report confidence in the preparedness of local officials.

Respondents were asked about three possible mitigations that could reduce the public health risk

  • Respondents registered widespread support for sanitation and social distancing at poll locations but lower support for sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters or using online voting.

Perceptions of safety and election integrity were associated with intention to vote

  • Only a small number of respondents to both a 2016 survey and the 2020 survey reported large changes in their intention to vote.
  • There was a notable increase in the number of respondents planning to vote by mail.

Recommendations

  • Election officials should ensure that they prioritize public safety and election integrity equally and clearly communicate with constituents about the steps being taken; both appear relevant to respondent intention to vote.
  • Because different groups of respondents have different safety, election integrity, and preparedness concerns, messaging targeted at groups that question these issues might be most efficient at mitigating voter concerns.
  • Offering no-excuse mail-in options could mitigate safety concerns, although state officials need to consider this option alongside others.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Assessments of Safety, Integrity, and Preparedness

  • Chapter Three

    How Do Perceptions Shape Intention to Vote?

  • Chapter Four

    Conclusions and Implications

  • Appendix

    Weighted Characteristics and Regression Models

Research conducted by

Funding for RAND's Countering Truth Decay research initiative is provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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