Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Election 2020: Voters Are Highly Engaged, but Nearly Half Expect To Have Difficulties Voting

Biden maintains lead despite Trump’s advantage in strong support

Voters cast their ballots in Missouri's primary election on Aug. 4 in St Louis. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Voters cast their ballots in Missouri’s primary election on Aug. 4 in St Louis. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
How we did this

How we did this

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand American voters’ attitudes toward and engagement with the 2020 presidential election and campaigns. For this analysis, we surveyed U.S. adults online and by telephone.

We surveyed 11,001 U.S. adults online – including 9,114 registered voters – in July and August 2020. Everyone who took part is a member of 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.

We also surveyed 1,750 U.S. adults by telephone – including 1,455 registered voters – in July and August 2020. The surveys were conducted in both English and Spanish over the phone under the direction of Abt Associates. Respondents to this survey were randomly selected via a combination of landline and cell phone random-digit-dial samples. To ensure that the results of this survey reflect a balanced cross-section of the nation, the data are weighted to match the U.S. adult population by gender, age, education, race and ethnicity and other categories.

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

As Democrats and Republicans prepare for their party conventions, a new national survey finds high voter engagement with the presidential campaign – and a record share saying it “really matters” who wins in November when it comes to making progress on important national issues.

Half of voters, including a majority of Biden supporters, expect it will be difficult to vote in this year’s election

Yet the coronavirus outbreak continues to cast a large shadow over the 2020 presidential election. Just half of U.S. registered voters (50%) say it will be very or somewhat easy to vote in the upcoming elections, while about the same share (49%) expects to have difficulties casting a ballot. That is a substantial change since October 2018, shortly before that year’s midterm elections, when 85% of registered voters said it would be easy to vote.

Voters who support Donald Trump are far more likely than those who support Joe Biden to say it will be easy to vote this year. However, the shares of both Trump and Biden supporters who expect it will be easy to vote are much lower than the shares of voters who said this in 2018 – regardless of which party’s candidate they supported.

There also are stark differences between Trump and Biden supporters about how they prefer to vote. Most registered voters who support Trump or lean toward supporting him would rather vote in person in the presidential election (80%), either on Election Day (60%) or earlier (20%); only 17% prefer to vote by mail. By contrast, a majority of voters who support or lean toward supporting Biden say their preference is to vote by mail in the presidential election (58%).

More voters say it ‘really matters’ who wins the presidency than at any point in the last 20 years

In the midst of a pandemic that has taken more than 160,000 American lives and ravaged the nation’s economy, interest in the presidential campaign is about as high as it was in June 2016 and much higher than during the previous three elections when incumbent presidents were on the ballot.

Currently, 83% of registered voters say it really matters who wins the presidency, up from 74% four years ago and the highest share saying this in two decades of Pew Research Center surveys. Nearly identical shares of registered voters in both parties say it really matters who prevails; other indicators of engagement with the election are equally high among Republican and Democratic voters.

Biden has overall advantage, despite lagging Trump in strong support

With less than three months until Election Day, Biden has an advantage over Trump in voter preferences: 53% of registered voters say if the election were held today they would vote for Biden or lean toward voting for him, while 45% support or lean toward voting for Trump.

At this point, Biden has a broader base of support among voters, while Trump’s support is much stronger. Two-thirds of Trump’s supporters (66%) say they support him strongly, compared with fewer than half (46%) of Biden’s supporters.

However, nearly identical shares of Biden and Trump supporters say they are certain to vote for their candidate in the presidential election (84% of Biden supporters, 85% of Trump supporters).

While virtually all of the “strong” supporters of both Biden and Trump say they are certain to vote for their preferred candidate, 90% of Biden’s “moderate” supporters express certainty about voting for him; a somewhat smaller majority of Trump supporters (83%) say they are certain to vote for him.

Top reason Biden supporters give for voting for him: He’s not Trump

For Biden supporters, opposition to Trump is by far the most frequently mentioned reason why they support him. Asked an open-ended question about the main reason they support or lean toward Biden, a 56% majority of his supporters cite their opposition to Trump; far fewer mention Biden’s leadership or performance as a candidate (19%) or his personality (13%).

By comparison, Trump supporters cite a variety of reasons for supporting him, including his leadership and performance as president (23%), his issue and policy positions, as well as their opposition to Biden (19%).

This is very different from the 2016 presidential campaign, when opposition to the other candidate was among the top reasons given by supporters of both Trump and Hillary Clinton for their voting decisions.

The concerns expressed by Trump and Biden supporters about their own candidate also are very different. As was the case during the 2016 campaign, many voters who support Trump have reservations about his temperament: In an open-ended question, 25% mention an aspect of his temperament as their biggest concern, with another 14% specifically citing his tweeting.

For Biden, by contrast, the most frequently mentioned concerns among his supporters center on his age and health. Nearly a third of Biden supporters (31%) say that his age or his health is what concerns them about him – far more than the shares citing his issue or policy positions (15%) or other concerns. Just 1% of Trump supporters express concerns about his age or health.

The study of voters’ views of the 2020 presidential campaign, which includes views of the candidates and the parties, the importance of major issues and concerns about voting amid the coronavirus outbreak, is based on two national surveys by Pew Research Center: A survey conducted July 27-Aug. 2 among 11,001 adults, including 9,114 registered voters, on the Center’s American Trends Panel; and a separate survey, conducted July 23-Aug. 4 on cellphones and landlines among 1,750 adults, including 1,455 registered voters.

Other major findings of the surveys

Biden supporters far more likely than Trump supporters to say they’d be angry if their candidate loses

Biden supporters say they’d be relieved if he wins and angry if Trump wins. A majority of Biden supporters (77%) say they would be relieved if he wins the election; just 16% say they’d be excited. And a larger share of Biden supporters (61%) say they would be angry if Trump wins, compared with Hillary Clinton supporters in 2016 (46% angry). Today, more Trump supporters say they would be relieved (61%) than excited (30%) if their candidate wins this year. And while 37% of Trump supporters say they would be angry if Biden wins, that is lower than the share who said they would be angry if Clinton won in 2016 (46%). Voters are divided over who they think will win. Half of registered voters say that, regardless of whom they support, they think Trump will win the presidential election, while about as many (48%) expect a Biden victory. Throughout the 2016 campaign, majorities of voters consistently said they expected Clinton to win.

The economy is voters’ top issue. A sizable majority of registered voters (79%) say the economy will be very important in their decision about whom to vote for; smaller shares say health care (68%), Supreme Court appointments (64%) and the coronavirus outbreak (62%) are very important issues. Trump supporters overwhelmingly cite the economy as a very important issue (88%), while large majorities of Biden supporters say health care (84%) and the coronavirus outbreak (82%) are very important to their vote.

GOP leads on the economy but trails on other issues, including the coronavirus. By 49% to 40%, registered voters are more likely to say the Republican Party, rather than the Democratic Party, can do a better job on the economy. The Democratic Party holds wide leads on several issues, including climate change, abortion and contraception, health care, issues involving race and ethnicity, and handling the public health impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly half of voters (47%) say the Democratic Party could do a better job in handling the public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak, compared with 35% who say the GOP could do better.

Record share of voters see clear differences between the candidates. Fully 86% of registered voters say Trump and Biden take different positions on the issues, the highest share saying this in presidential elections dating to 2000 (this question was not asked in 2016). And just 8% of voters agree that either candidate would make a good president. That is only slightly lower than four years ago, but in 2012 nearly a quarter of voters (24%) agreed that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would make a good president.

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