American politics is in a fragile state. Projects such as Bright Line Watch have been charting how American politics is changing over the past several years, but it doesn’t take much expertise to see how COVID-19 comes at what might be the worst possible time for a sharply divided country. As part of an ongoing project on the politics of COVID-19 in the United States, Shana Gadarian, Sara Goodman, and I have been collecting data on a range of opinions and attitudes about COVID-19. These data give us insights about how Americans are experiencing the pandemic, and how our partisan politics governs our responses.
Amid all of this, we have found a bit of cause for optimism: Americans on the whole have become much less supportive of delaying elections since March 2020.
We’ve reached this conclusion by comparing the first two waves of our surveys. Waves 1 and 2 of our survey came in late March and late April, and American politics seems to have undergone at least a couple of revolutions during that period.
In March, Americans were still getting used to lockdown conditions, whereas by late April protesters were starting to press for reopening. In between, mid-April saw the hotly contested election in Wisconsin, which made very plain that for many Americans, voting in 2020 will have public health consequences.
So what to Americans think about delaying elections? The figure below compares responses to the question “To what extend to you agree with the following statement? Elections should be delayed if it means protecting people,” which we asked in both waves of our survey.
In March 2020, the modal response was to strongly agree with this statement. Today, the opposite is true: the modal response is to strongly disagree with this statement.
Now, this is good news, but where are these changes coming from? You might have expected that the question of whether or not to delay elections would end up being a partisan issue, just like everything else is in American politics these days. Or perhaps it is driven by other demographic features. Below, we calculate the average response (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) across these and a wide range of other variables, and show differences in average responses between Wave 1 and Wave 2.* The vertical dotted and dashed lines are the sample averages in Waves 1 and Wave 2, so you can see how each subgroup compares to the average in that wave.
These results are striking. There are modest differences in average support for delaying elections across different populations of Americans, but we see substantial declines across all of these groups.
We can also look at differences across groups based on their attitudes or geographic characteristics. It could be that we see more support for delaying elections in contested states, or among those who express greater anti-immigrant sentiments, or among those who are opposed to voting by mail, or among those who consume right-wing news. We are able to measure all of these things and more, and here is what we find.
These patterns are more interesting, and there’s a lot to dig into here. But note that we see substantial decreases in support for delaying elections across all of these groups, even if we do still see, for example, more support for delaying elections among respondents in states that Trump lost (regardless of these respondents’ individual partisanship).
All of these details about differences across groups are important, and suggest that there’s more to explore. But the topline finding is unambiguously good news from my own perspective: Americans of all types are becoming ever more eager to make sure that elections continue as planned.
* These figures are all weighted to be representative of the U.S. population via YouGov’s weighting scheme.