[Image via pewresearch]

A new public opinion survey by The Pew Research Center confirms a growing partisan divide on absentee voting in the face of COVID-19 – one so deep that it is actually driving a reduction on overall support for the practice when compared to previous elections. Here’s the summary:

The prospect of conducting the presidential election during a pandemic has prompted many states to reexamine their plans for how to conduct the election safely, including when it comes to access to early or absentee voting.

About two-thirds of Americans (65%) say the option to vote early or absentee should be available to any voter without requiring a documented reason, while a third say early and absentee voting should only be allowed with a reason, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted June 16-22.

Those who say documentation should be required for absentee voting were asked if COVID-19 should be considered a documented reason. Among the public overall, 19% say documentation should be required but COVID-19 should not be a valid reason; 14% say documented reasons should be required and COVID-19 should be one of them.

The partisan split on the issue is pronounced:

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly support so-called “no excuse” early or absentee voting: 83% say this. Among the small share of Democrats who do not, most say the coronavirus outbreak should qualify as a documented reason.

GOP views are more divided: 44% of Republicans and Republican leaners say no documented reason should be necessary to vote early or absentee, while 55% say one should be. Among Republicans who say a documented reason is needed, most say the coronavirus outbreak should not be considered a valid reason: 37% of all Republicans say early and absentee voting only should be allowed with a documented reason and say that COVID-19 is not an acceptable reason; 17% say a documented reason should be required, but that COVID-19 should be a valid reason.

This difference manifests itself in a small decline in overall support for no-excuse absentee since 2018:

Americans’ support for no-excuse absentee voting has decreased modestly from 71% in October 2018 to 65% today – a result of shifting views among Republicans. Today, a 55% majority of Republicans say voters should only be allowed to vote early or absentee if they have a documented reason for not voting on Election Day, up from 42% who said this in 2018.

The views of Democrats are little changed over this period.

The survey also found that voters’ attitudes toward no-excuse absentee do not vary much as a result of the policies in place in their own state:

Americans’ attitudes about no-excuse early or absentee voting differ only modestly by the current policies of their state. Those living in states that require a documented reason are somewhat more likely than those in states without such a requirement to say voters should have to provide a reason for voting early or absentee (38% vs. 31%, respectively). However, these differences are much more modest than the differences between partisans, even in states with similar absentee voting policies.

There’s also an echo of this partisan split in the attitudes of voters toward the question of whether easing registration and voting affects election security:

In the Center’s June survey, 60% of Americans say that changing election rules to make it easier to register and vote would not make elections any less secure, while 37% say that elections would be less secure if it were easier to register and vote. These views are little changed from 2018.

Majorities of Black, white and Hispanic Americans hold the view that making it easier to vote would not make elections any less secure, but Black Americans are especially likely to say this (70% vs. 58% among both white and Hispanic Americans).

However, there is a stark partisan divide in these views: Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (79%) say that changes to election rules to make it easier to register and vote would not make elections any less secure, while 59% of Republicans say they would.

As always, Pew’s analysis highlights an important factor in the current election policy debate. These results aren’t really that surprising; there has always been a difference between the parties on election policies like absentee voting – though the high stakes and heated rhetoric surrounding the 2020 election seems to be driving the two parties even further apart. It’s just another hurdle for policymakers and election officials to clear as they work to set the rules and procedures for November’s vote. Stay tuned…