Deep partisan divides in views of making it easy to vote in the U.S.

As partisan conflicts over voting access take center stage in Congress and in scores of states around the country, the share of Americans who say “everything possible” should be done to make voting easy has declined since 2018 – with the decrease coming entirely among Republicans.

Currently, a majority of U.S. adults (59%) say that everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote. A smaller share (39%) says that citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in early March.

To assess how Americans view voting access and election security in the U.S., we surveyed 12,055 U.S. adults March 1-7, 2021, using Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Republicans and Democrats take dramatically different positions on this issue. An 85% majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say everything possible should be done to make voting easy.

By contrast, just 28% of Republicans and Republican leaners say everything possible should be done to make voting easy, while a majority (71%) say citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time.

There are also substantial partisan differences on whether changing election rules to make it easier to vote would also make elections less secure. Overall, 61% of Americans say it would not make elections less secure if election rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote. But while 82% of Democrats hold this view, fewer than half as many Republicans say the same (37%). A majority of Republicans say that elections would be less secure if voting rules were changed to make it easier to vote.

Republicans now much less likely to say ‘everything possible’ should be done to make it easy to vote

Three years ago, ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, 67% of the public favored everything possible being done to make it easy to vote.

The share of Republicans who say everything possible should be done to make voting easy has declined 20 percentage points since 2018, while Democrats’ opinions are virtually unchanged since then.

In 2018, Republicans were divided in views about making it easy to vote. Then, about half of Republicans (51%) said that citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time, while nearly as many (48%) said that everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote.

Sizable majorities of Black and Hispanic adults say ‘everything possible’ should be done to make it easy to vote

Today, that balance has shifted dramatically. More than twice as many Republicans say citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time (71%) than say all possible efforts should be taken to make it easy to vote (28%). Democrats continue to overwhelmingly say everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote.

There also are wide demographic differences in these opinions. While 84% of Black adults and 69% of Hispanic adults say everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote, only about half of White adults say the same.

Views about ease of voting are also correlated with age. Younger adults – especially those under the age of 30 – are particularly likely to say election policies should make it easy for every citizen to vote. Older adults are more divided. For example, 51% of adults 65 years of age and older say everything possible should be done to making voting easy; 49% say citizens should have to prove they really want to vote.

There are also divides among partisans by ideology. Conservative Republicans are significantly more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to say citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time (79% vs. 56%, respectively).

Among Democrats, liberals are more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to say everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote (93% vs. 78%). 

Views of possible trade-offs between voting access and election security have shown less change in recent years, though partisan differences have widened in these attitudes as well.

Republicans, Democrats move further apart in views of trade-offs between election security and ease of voting

This is mostly attributable to movement among Democrats over the past three years. In 2018, 76% of Democrats said it would not make elections any less secure if election rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote. Today, 82% of Democrats hold this view. Just 16% say if election rules were changed to make it easier to vote, that would make elections less secure.

Views among Republicans have been more stable. Two years ago, 57% of Republicans said that if election rules were changed to make it easier to vote, elections would be less secure. Today, 61% of Republicans say this; a much smaller share (37%) say it would not make elections any less secure if voting rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote.

Two-thirds of conservative Republicans say easing voting rules would make elections less secure

Though a majority of Americans overall say it would not make elections any less secure if election rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote, there are sizable divides on this question by race and ideology.

White adults stand out for their views on election security and voting access: 40% say elections would be less secure if rules about registration and voting were eased, compared with 23% of Black adults and 34% of Hispanic adults. Still, majorities in each group say easing voting restrictions would not make elections any less secure. 

There are also ideological differences among members of both parties. Conservative Republicans are significantly more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to say elections would be less secure if voting rules were changed (67% vs. 51%, respectively).

And though large majorities of Democrats across the ideological spectrum say it would not make elections less secure if election rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote, a larger share of liberal Democrats say this compared with conservative and moderate Democrats (90% vs. 75%, respectively).

White Democrats overwhelmingly say easing voting rules would not make elections less secure

Overall, White Americans are less likely than Black and Hispanic adults to say it would not make elections less secure if voting rules were changed to make it easier to register and vote.

But partisanship is a significant factor in attitudes among White Americans. White Democrats overwhelmingly take the view that elections would not be less secure if rules were changed to make it easier to vote (89%). But just a third of White Republicans say the same (34%).

Large shares of Black (76%) and Hispanic (69%) Democrats also share this view – though they are slightly less likely than White Democrats to say this (89%).

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Hannah Hartig  is a research associate focusing on U.S. politics and policy research at Pew Research Center.