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'Siloed': NBC/WSJ poll shows how GOP, Dems hold widely different views on voting

Biden voters are significantly more likely to say they plan on voting by mail than Trump supporters in the new survey.
Image: Last day of early voting in Florida
A poll worker casts a mail-in ballot for a disabled driver on the last day of early voting for the U.S. presidential election at the C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library in East Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 16, 2020.Octavio Jones / Reuters

WASHINGTON — American voters are significantly less confident in the accuracy of the presidential vote count than they were four years ago, and their plans for how to cast their own ballots differ widely based on which candidate they support, according to new data from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal August poll.

The poll finds that 45 percent of voters are not confident that the results of the election will be counted accurately, up from 34 percent who said the same before the 2016 election.

The same share, 45 percent, say they are confident in the 2020 total vote count, down from 59 percent four years ago.

Asked specifically about ballots cast by mail— which President Donald Trump has said, without evidence, are ripe for fraud and foreign interference — 44 percent of voters say they are confident that mailed ballots will be counted accurately, while 51 percent disagree.

Overall, 30 percent of voters say they plan to vote by mail, 20 percent say they plan to vote early at an in-person early voting location, and 43 percent plan to go to the polls in person on Election Day.

However, the survey’s results about voting and voting behaviors are characterized by deep divides by party and by presidential choice.

Supporters of Democratic candidate Joe Biden are significantly more likely than Trump backers to say they plan to vote by mail. Nearly half – 47 percent – say they plan to mail in their ballot, with an additional 21 percent saying they will cast a vote before Election Day at an early in-person voting site. Only about a quarter of Biden voters, 26 percent, plan to vote on Election Day at a polling place.

In contrast, two-thirds of Trump’s voters — 66 percent — say they will vote in person on Election Day. Just 11 percent say they plan to vote by mail, and 20 percent say they will vote early in person.

The survey results come as Trump has repeatedly tried to discredit the security of mail ballots (while carving out an exception for votes cast by mail in his own home state of Florida, where he will send in his absentee ballot for the second time this cycle.) And they come amid fears that cost-cutting measures carried out by Trump’s new Postmaster General, a top GOP donor, will cause delays that could result in the rejection of scores of ballots cast by mail.

“The 2020 Election will be a socially siloed affair with Democrats being much more likely to employ the mailbox and Republicans the ballot box,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, whose firm Hart Research conducted the poll along with Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies. “What this means for the process of actually counting votes and how the information is released is critically important in instilling confidence in the system, which is already at a low point.”

Major partisan differences in confidence in the election

Republican voters overall have far less confidence in the election results than their Democratic counterparts.

Just 36 percent of Republicans say they have confidence that the presidential election’s results overall will be counted accurately, while just 23 percent say the same of ballots sent by mail. Nearly three-quarters, 73 percent, of Republicans believe that votes cast by mail will not be counted accurately.

Democrats put far more faith in both the counting of all votes and mail ballots specifically. Fifty-five percent of Democrats say they’re confident in the total vote, and an even higher share — 65 percent — say they’re confident in the counting of mail ballots.

The partisan divides also extend to what voters would like to see election administrators in their state do about encouraging votes by mail during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Overall, 54 percent prefer that voters in their state either receive a ballot application in the mail that they must complete in order to be mailed an actual ballot (21 percent) or that they automatically receive a ballot by mail that is ready to cast (33 percent.)

Trump has explicitly rejected the second approach — when election administrators automatically mail ballots to voters without an application process. But the first practice — encouraging voters by mail to apply to receive a ballot — is common for party operatives and outside groups on both sides of the aisle.

But among Republicans, three-quarters — 73 percent — reject both strategies.

Among Democrats, a majority — 53 percent — say that voters in their state should automatically receive ballots in the mail, with no application required.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted August 9-12, 2020. The margin of error for 900 registered voters is +/- 3.27 percentage points.