Declining shares of Republicans favor ‘no excuse’ absentee and early voting, automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote
Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand Americans’ views of election and voting policies in the United States, how national trends have changed over time, and how opinions vary by age, race and partisanship. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,109 U.S. adults in April 2021. Everyone who took part in this survey 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.
In the months since the 2020 election, partisan conflicts over election rules and procedures – both at the state and federal levels – have become increasingly contentious.
Among U.S. adults overall, sizable majorities favor several policies aimed at making it easier for citizens to register and vote, as well as a requirement that voters be required to show government-issued photo identification before voting.
However, there are substantial – and, in some cases, growing – partisan divisions over many of these policies, largely because of changes in opinions among Republicans. For example, since 2018 there has been a decline in the share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote (38% today vs. 49% in 2018).
In addition, the share of Republicans who say any voter should be allowed to vote early or absentee without a documented reason has fallen 19 percentage points (from 57% to 38%). Democrats and Democratic leaners are far more supportive of automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote (82%) and no-excuse early voting (84%); their views are virtually unchanged in recent years.
The new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted from April 5-11, 2021, among 5,109 adults who are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel, also finds wide partisan differences over removing inactive voters from voting registration lists. A 68% majority of Republicans favor removing people from voting registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration, compared with just 27% of Democrats.
Still, several proposals draw majority support from both Republicans and Democrats, including requiring electronic voting machines to print paper ballots as backups and for making early, in-person voting available for at least two weeks prior to Election Day.
Yet, in general, Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to say everything possible should be done to make it easy to vote, according to a survey conducted last month (28% of Republicans vs. 85% Democrats).
When it comes to no-excuse early and absentee voting – a topic that has received widespread attention in recent weeks – Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to say that a voter should only be allowed to vote early or absentee if they have a documented reason for doing so (62% vs. 16%). In October 2018, on the eve of that fall’s midterm elections, fewer than half of Republicans (42%) favored requiring voters to have a documented reason for voting early or absentee.
Republicans’ views of some other election proposals have also changed over this period. A much larger share of Republicans today say they favor removing people from registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration than said this in October 2018 (68% today vs. 53% then). And a declining share of Republicans support automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote (38% today vs. 49% in 2018).
Over this period, Democrats’ views have remained much more stable: Fewer than three-in-ten (27%) favor removing voters from registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration, while a sizable majority (82%) continue to favor automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote.
There has been little change since 2018 in views of requiring all voters to show government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Republicans continue to overwhelmingly support this policy (93% favor), while it draws support from a smaller majority of Democrats (61%).
Other findings from the survey
- Voters who have recent experience with early or absentee voting more likely to favor no-excuse absentee voting policy. Those who say they voted early or absentee in 2020 are more likely than those who voted in person to favor no-excuse early and absentee voting for all voters. This is particularly the case among Republicans: Just 22% of Republicans who voted in person on Election Day favor this policy, compared with 52% of Republicans who voted early or absentee in the 2020 presidential election.
- More approve than disapprove of independent redistricting; many are unsure about issue. More adults approve (49%) than disapprove (13%) of a Democratic proposal to require that commissions with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans draw congressional district maps, rather than state legislatures; a sizable share of adults (38%) say they are not sure about his proposal. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to favor replacing state legislatures with independent commissions for drawing congressional maps.
Broad public support for several election-related proposals
Sizable majorities of adults strongly or somewhat favor requiring electronic voting machines to print a paper backup of the ballot (82%), making early, in-person voting available to voters for at least two weeks prior to Election Day (78%), and requiring all voters to show government issued photo identification to vote (76%).
Roughly seven-in-ten Americans also favor allowing people convicted of felonies to vote after serving their sentences (70%) and making Election Day a national holiday (68%).
Though a majority of adults favor automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote (61%), support for this policy is slightly less pronounced compared with the other proposals asked about on the survey.
Removing people from registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration is the only item that a majority of the public opposes: 52% say they strongly or somewhat oppose this proposal; a smaller share (46%) expresses support for it.
While the public broadly supports six of the seven voting proposals asked about on the survey, there are sizable partisan divides on several policies – including the relative strength of support for many election issues.
For example, while majorities of Democrats and Republicans say they favor making early, in-person voting available to voters for at least two weeks prior to Election Day, Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to strongly support this measure (65% vs. 26%, respectively).
There is a similar pattern in views when it comes to making Election Day a national holiday (53% of Democrats strongly support this policy compared with 29% of Republicans) and whether people convicted of felonies should be able to vote after serving their sentences (49% of Democrats strongly favor vs. 20% of Republicans).
By contrast, Republicans are considerably more likely than Democrats to strongly favor photo identification requirements for voting (81% strongly favor compared with 30% of Democrats), even as majorities in both partisan groups favor this policy.
Over the past few years, there have been some sizable shifts in views of voting policy among Republicans, including in views of automatic voter registration and removing people from registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration.
In 2018, about half of Republicans (49%) said they would somewhat or strongly favor automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote. Today, a much smaller share of Republicans say they support this measure (38%). At the same time, the share of Democrats who support automatic voter registration has ticked up slightly – from 78% in 2018 to 82% today.
Republicans’ support for removing people from registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration has also shifted considerably since 2018. Then, a small majority of Republicans said they favored this policy (53%). Today, this share is 15 percentage points higher (68%).
There has been comparably less movement on several of the other voting policies asked about on the survey, though Democrats are 7 percentage points more likely to favor making Election Day a national holiday compared with three years ago. Republicans are about as likely to favor this policy today as they were in 2018.
Age and race differences in views of voting policies
When it comes to voting policies, younger people are typically more likely than older people to favor increased ballot access, whether that is through automatic voter registration, disapproval of removing voters from registration lists if they have not recently voted, allowing ex-convicts to vote, or making Election Day a national holiday. This difference is primarily driven by age differences among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
About one-in-three Republicans ages 65 and older (32%) favor policies that would automatically register all eligible citizens to vote, as do 35% of Republicans ages 50 to 64, 41% of those 35 to 49 and 46% of Republicans younger than 35. There is almost no age difference among Democrats on this proposal.
Similar age dynamics can be seen across a range of voting proposals. Younger Republicans are much more likely to support re-enfranchising people convicted of felonies than are those 65 and older (63% of 18- to 34-year-old Republicans vs. 47% of those 65 and older). They also are substantially more likely to support making Election Day a national holiday (71% of young Republicans compared with 50% of those 65 and older).
Younger Republicans are significantly less likely to support removing voters from registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration compared with older Republicans (56% of those
under 35 say this, compared with 77% of those 65 or older). Younger Democrats are somewhat more likely than older Democrats to support removing voters from lists if they have not recently voted compared (30% of 18- to 34-year-old Democrats support such policies compared with 24% of those 65 and older).
There also are substantial racial and ethnic differences in support for voting policies. In several cases, Black Americans are distinctive in their preferences for more expansive voting policies. Black adults are substantially more likely than those of other races and ethnicities to favor allowing people convicted of felonies to vote after serving their sentences: 85% of Black Americans favor this, compared with about seven-in-ten White, Hispanic and Asian Americans.
Black adults also show among the lowest levels of support for some of the more restrictive policies, such as removing people from registration lists if they haven’t recently voted or confirmed their registration and requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification.
Overall, White adults are less likely to favor making Election Day a national holiday and automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote than are Black, Hispanic and Asian adults.
Among Democrats, however, White adults are as supportive, or in some cases, more supportive, than Black, Hispanic and Asian adults of policies aimed at making it easier to vote.
And while only a narrow majority of White Democrats (54%) favor requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification to vote, larger shares of Black (65%), Hispanic (72%) and Asian Democrats (71%) say the same.
Among Republicans, by contrast, White adults are less supportive than Hispanic adults of policies aimed at easing voting. For example, about half of Hispanic Republicans (51%) favor automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote, compared with 35% of White Republicans. (Note: There are too few Black and Asian Republicans in this survey to report separate estimates).
The 2020 election saw record-high levels of absentee and early voting. As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, many states dramatically expanded access to absentee and early voting for public health reasons. As was the case last summer in the run-up to the 2020 election, Americans generally say any voter should have the option to vote early or absentee. Slightly more than six-in-ten (63%) now say this, while 36% say that voters should only be allowed to vote early or absentee if they have a documented reason for not voting in person on Election Day.
About eight-in-ten Black Americans (81%) say all voters should be able to vote early or absentee, as do smaller majorities of Asian (67%), Hispanic (63%) and White adults (59%).
White Democrats are more supportive of allowing all voters to vote early or absentee than are Democrats of other races and ethnicities, while the reverse is true for White Republicans compared with Hispanic Republicans. Among all adults, those with a college degree or more education are more likely to support no-excuse early and absentee voting than those with less education (74% vs. 57%).
Partisanship remains the most important factor in Americans’ attitudes about this question, with only 38% of Republicans in favor of allowing all voters to vote early or absentee without documented reasons for doing so, and an overwhelming majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (84%) saying the same.
Among Republicans, moderates and liberals are about evenly divided, with 49% saying voters should be required to provide documented reasons for voting absentee or early and 51% saying this should not be necessary. Conservative Republicans are substantially more likely to say the former (70%) than the latter (30%). Ideological divides among Democrats are not nearly so pronounced on this issue.
Those who have recent experience voting early or absentee are more likely than those who voted in person in the 2020 election to favor no-excuse early and absentee voting for all voters. This is especially true among Republicans and Republican leaners.
There was a sizable disparity between how Republicans and Democrats voted in the presidential election: Shortly after the election, roughly a third (34%) of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said they voted absentee or by mail, compared with 58% of Democratic and Democratic leaners.
GOP voters who voted early or absentee in November are more likely than the larger shares of Republican voters who voted in person on Election Day or before the election to favor no-excuse absentee or early voting.
While about half of Republicans (52%) who voted absentee or by mail favor no-excuse absentee or early voting, only about of third of early, in-person GOP voters (35%) and just 22% of those on voted in person on Election Day say the same. Among Democrats, there are only slight differences in these views between those who voted absentee and those who voted in person.
Many uncertain about independent redistricting proposal
As states prepare for the once-a-decade task of redrawing congressional districts using new census data, nearly half of U.S. adults say they approve of a proposal by House Democrats that would require states to put together redistricting commissions composed of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans to draw their congressional maps instead of having state legislatures come up with their own plans. Just 13% disapprove of this proposal, while 38% say they are unsure about it.
Republicans and Republican leaners are somewhat more likely to disapprove of these non-legislative commissions than are Democrats (19% and 8% respectively), but they are also more likely than Democrats to say they are not sure either way (42% vs. 32%).