Voters approached the 2018 midterm elections with some trepidation about the voting process and many had concerns that U.S. election systems may be hacked. After the election, however, most say it was “very easy” to vote and confidence in election security has increased.
About three-quarters of those who report casting ballots in the midterm elections (76%) say that voting was “very easy.” In a survey conducted in October, just 44% of those who planned to vote expected that the process would be very easy.
Prior to the election, fewer than half of Americans (45%) were confident that elections across the U.S. would be secure from hacking and other technological threats; 55% said they were not too confident or not at all confident that elections would be secure.
After the election, a majority of Americans (64%) say they are confident that the elections were secure from hacking, though about a third (35%) still have little or no confidence in the security of the elections.
The national survey by Pew Research Center, supported by a grant from the Democracy Fund, was conducted Nov. 7-16 among 10,640 adults, including 8,579 who say they voted in the midterm elections. This survey compares attitudes about the elections and voting process with a survey conducted before the elections (Sept. 24-Oct. 7).
As the pre-election survey found, Americans have more positive views of their local election officials than those who run elections in their states or across the U.S.
Majorities say that poll workers in their community and officials who run elections locally (68% each) did a very good job during the elections.
However, a smaller majority (55%) say the officials who run elections in their state did a very good job, and just 23% give election officials across the United States very high job ratings.
Still, large majorities say both state officials and election officials across the U.S. did at least a somewhat good job. Relatively few (10%) say state officials did not do well, while 18% say the same about officials across the country.
An estimated 50.1% of the voting-eligible population voted in the midterms, according to the United States Election Project, making it the highest turnout congressional election in more than a century. Still, about half of those who were eligible to vote did not do so.
A majority of those who say they did not vote (61%) also say they wish they had voted in the midterms; 38% say they do not wish they had voted.
Asked about some possible reasons why they did not vote, no single factor stands out among nonvoters: 26% say “I don’t like politics” is a major reason they did not vote. Among other major reasons, 21% say they did not think their vote would make a difference; 20% say it was too inconvenient; 19% say they were not registered; 12% say they “didn’t care” who won their local elections for Congress; and 7% say they forgot to vote.
Was voting easy or difficult?
About three-quarters of self-reported voters (76%) say it was “very easy” for them to vote in the November elections. Another 16% say voting was “somewhat easy.” Just 8% say voting was very or somewhat difficult.
Before the election, registered voters who said they planned to vote were somewhat less confident voting would be easy for them personally. In October, just 44% said they expected it to be very easy and 40% said they expected it would be somewhat easy for them to vote.
How voters cast their ballots
The share of the electorate that votes early has increased significantly over the past two decades. This year, the share of voters who report casting their ballots before Election Day (45%) is only 10 percentage points lower than the share that reports voting on Election Day (55%).
Older voters are more likely to report voting early: 54% of those age 65 and older say they voted before Election Day, compared with 44% of those ages 50 to 64 and 38% of those under 50.
White and black voters are more likely to say they turned out to vote on Election Day than beforehand (56% of white voters and 59% of black voters say they voted on Election Day). About half of Hispanic voters report voting on Election Day, while half say they voted early (49% vs. 50%).
A similar share in both parties say they voted early, with 43% of Republicans and Republican leaners and 46% of Democrats and Democratic leaners saying this.
While voting by mail has become more common in recent elections – including in three states where elections are conducted entirely by mail – most voters (73%) still say they cast their ballots in person this fall.
Black voters (85%) are more likely than white (72%) or Hispanic voters (68%) to report having voted in person.
Voters over the age of 65 are the most likely to say they voted by mail, with 35% saying this. Roughly a quarter of those under 65 say they voted by mail.
Three-quarters of Republicans and Republican leaners report having voted in person; a similar share of Democrats (72%) say the same.
There are large differences in how and when Americans vote across regions of the country. Some regions have embraced early voting and voting by mail, while others largely vote in person and on Election Day.
Today, most voters in the Western U.S. (70%) vote before Election Day. By comparison, almost nine-in-ten voters in the Northeast (88%) say they voted on Election Day. In the South, voters are evenly split between voting early or on Election Day, while a majority in the Midwest (68%) voted on Election Day.
Most Americans still vote in person, but in the West that is no longer the norm. About seven-in-ten Western voters (69%) cast their ballots by mail, compared with fewer than two-in-ten in the other regions. (The West contains three states that conduct their elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Oregon and Washington.)
A wide majority of voters say voting was “very easy” for them personally, regardless of how or when they voted.
Overall, 77% of those who voted in person say voting was very easy for them. Slightly fewer of those who report voting by mail say the same (72%). There is little difference between the two groups in the share saying it was difficult.
Voters who cast their vote before Election Day are just as likely as those who voted on Election Day to say the experience was easy: 75% of early voters say it was very easy for them compared with 77% of those who turned out on Election Day.
Many voters said their polling place was not crowded
Most voters who cast ballots in person say that their polling place was not too (28%) or not at all (41%) crowded. About three-in-ten say it was somewhat (24%) or very (6%) crowded.
Younger in-person voters are more likely than others to report that it was crowded when they went to vote. Almost four-in-ten adults under age 30 (37%) say it was crowded, including 13% who say it was very crowded. In contrast, about three-in-ten voters in other age groups say it was crowded.
Though majorities of white, black and Hispanic in-person voters say their polling places were not crowded, Hispanic voters are more likely than white and black voters to report that their polling place was crowded.
Among Hispanic voters, 13% say that when they went to vote it was very crowded. In contrast, 5% of white voters and black voters say their polling place was very crowded.
Roughly half of in-person voters (47%) say they did not have to wait in line to cast their ballots (47%), while a third (33%) say they had a wait of less than 10 minutes. Two-in-ten say they waited in line for 10 minutes or more, including 6% who report having waited for more than a half-hour (1% of in-person voters say their wait exceeded an hour).
Half of whites who voted in person (50%) say they did not have to wait at all to vote. By comparison, black (43%) and Hispanic (39%) in-person voters are less likely to report not having waited at all.
Among black in-person voters, 27% say they waited for at least 10 minutes, including 9% who say they waited over 30 minutes to vote. Hispanic in-person voters report similar wait times (29% say they waited 10 minutes or more, including 9% who waited over a half-hour). A smaller share of white in-person voters report long wait times – 18% say they waited for 10 minutes or more, including only 5% who report waits in excess of 30 minutes.
Similar shares of in-person voters in the Northeast (52%), Midwest (50%) and West (53%) say they did not have to wait in line to vote. Southern voters, however, are somewhat more likely to report having to wait in line. A quarter of Southern in-person voters (26%) say they waited in line at least 10 minutes, including 8% who say they waited over 30 minutes to vote. This is larger than the share of Northeastern (11%), Midwestern (19%) and Western (18%) in-person voters who say they waited in line at least 10 minutes. Within the South, there are no significant differences in reported wait times between white and black in-person voters.
In-person voters in rural areas are more likely than those in suburban and urban areas to say they did not have to wait to vote: 51% say this, compared with 46% of urban and 45% of suburban in-person voters. And while 8% of those in urban areas and 6% in suburban areas say they waited 30 minutes or more; just 4% of those in rural areas say the same.
Few midterm voters say this was their first time voting
Just 3% of self-reported voters in the 2018 election say it was the first time they had ever voted; 97% say they had participated in elections before this year.
However, 27% of midterm voters under age 25 say it was their first time voting. First time voters make up just 5% of voters ages 25 to 29 and 4% of those 30 to 39. Just 1% of those 40 and older say this.
About one-in-ten Hispanic voters (12%) say this was the first election they had participated in; by comparison, just 4% of black voters and 1% of white voters say this.
Among those who cast their ballots for Democratic candidates for the House, 4% were first time voters; 2% of GOP voters say that this was the first time they had voted.
Nonvoters’ reasons for not voting
There are various reasons why nonvoters decide not to vote. Nearly half (49%) say not liking politics was either a major reason (26%) or minor reason (23%) they did not vote.
A similar share (44%) said believing that their vote would not make a difference was at least a minor reason why they did not vote.
About four-in-ten (41%) cite inconvenience as a reason, while 30% say not being registered or eligible to vote was a reason for not voting.
About a third (35%) say not caring who won their district was a major or minor reason for not voting, while 22% cite forgetting to vote as a reason for not casting a ballot.
Among nonvoters who wish they had voted in the midterms, no factors particularly stand out as major reasons for not voting. But nonvoters who do not wish they had voted generally point to disliking politics and skepticism that their vote would matter.
Nonvoters who do not wish they had participated in the congressional elections are significantly more likely than those who wish they had voted to say they did not vote because they do not like politics (45% vs. 14%).
And while a third of nonvoters who do not wish they had voted (33%) say not believing their vote would make a difference was a major reason why they did not vote, only 14% of nonvoters who wish they voted say the same.
However, a little less than a quarter of nonvoters who wish they had voted either say they did not vote due to the inconvenience of voting (23%) or being unregistered or ineligible to vote (22%). In contrast, just 15% of nonvoters who do not wish they voted say the same for each.
Views of election officials
Voters offer highly positive evaluations of election workers – especially those in their local communities – following the midterm elections. Nearly seven-in-ten (68%) say that poll workers in their community and officials who ran elections in their local area did their jobs very well. More than nine-in-ten say they did their jobs at least somewhat well.
While public confidence in local election workers and officials was high in the weeks before the election, voters’ retrospective evaluations are even more positive.
Across the board, voters express more satisfaction with local workers and officials than those at the state and federal level. Still, 89% say their state’s election officials did their jobs at least somewhat well, including 55% who say they performed very well.
And while only 23% say election officials across the country did their jobs very well, an additional 57% say they did at least somewhat well. In contrast to views of local and state officials and workers, evaluations of the performance of election officials across the country are only modestly higher than pre-election confidence levels among the general public.
Confidence in accuracy of the vote count linked to the outcome
Americans are generally confident that votes were counted as voters intended in the November elections. But voters who backed winning congressional candidates in their district are more likely than those who backed losing candidates to express confidence in the accuracy of the vote count.
In districts where GOP candidates for the House prevailed, 65% of Republican voters say they are very confident votes in their community were counted as intended, while 53% of Democratic voters in these districts say the same. And the pattern is reversed among voters in districts where Democratic candidates won: 62% of Democratic voters in these districts say they are very confident in the vote count in their community; 48% of GOP voters in these places say the same.
These differences are not found in voters’ views of the accuracy of the vote count across the nation.
Views of election security
The public expresses considerably higher levels of confidence that the security of the election systems in their state and around the nation were secure from hacking than it did before the election. About three-quarters (77%) say they are very or somewhat confident that their state’s systems were secure from hacking and other technological threats, up 11 percentage points from the share saying this before the election (66%). And while just 45% expressed confidence in the security of systems in the U.S. before the election, more than six-in-ten (64%) now say this.
Confidence has risen among both parties, but the shift is particularly pronounced among Democrats. About three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic leaners (76%) are either very or somewhat confident that systems in their state were secure – a month before the election, just 60% said this. Republicans express even higher levels of confidence in the security of their state’s systems (81% now say this, up from 75% pre-election).
Before the election, just 34% of Democrats said they were at least somewhat confident election systems in the U.S. were secure from hacking and other technological threats. That has risen to 60% following the election.
Among Republicans, 72% say they are confident systems around the country were secure, up from 59% before the election.
Among the 66% of Americans who before the elections said they were very or somewhat confident that state election systems were secure, nearly nine-in-ten (88%) continue to express confidence, while a 60% majority of those who were not too or not at all confident in the security of these systems before the elections now say they are at least somewhat confident they were secure.
Similarly, 86% of those who expressed confidence in election systems across the country in October say they are confident these systems were secure. Among the 54% who were not confident in national election systems before the midterm elections, about half (51%) now say they are confident that election systems in the United States were secure from hacking and other technological threats, while 49% continue to express little confidence in election security around the country.
Democrats more likely than Republicans to see foreign influence in midterm elections
About four-in-ten (38%) Americans say that Russia or other foreign governments definitely (9%) or probably (30%) influenced the congressional elections, while six-in-ten say foreign governments probably (44%) or definitely (16%) did not influence the elections.
In October, about two-thirds (67%) said it was very or somewhat likely that Russia or other foreign governments would attempt to influence the U.S. congressional elections, including roughly a third (32%) who said this was very likely.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they think there was foreign influence in the congressional elections: 53% say this, compared with 21% of Republicans. This is similar to the partisan divide in expectations before the election, when 80% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans said it was at least somewhat likely that there would be foreign attempts to influence the election.