Most Americans Don’t Want to Delay Elections in November. But Now for the Bad News…

As part of my ongoing collaboration with Shana Gadarian and Sara Goodman on a NSF- and Cornell Center for the Social Sciences-supported project on pandemic politics,* we are tracking Americans’ views about how the U.S. government ought to respond to the pandemic. We asked early on about whether or not respondents supported delaying the elections in November, and were pleased to see bipartisan opposition to that.

Since then, we have seen still further declines in support for delaying elections. As of mid-August, when we got our latest round of data, fully 63% of Americans strongly oppose delaying elections, and another 9% somewhat oppose delaying elections. This is good.

Now for the bad news: a partisan gap has now emerged about delaying elections.

The figure below tracks support for delaying elections across the four waves of our survey. It also shows support for voting by mail, which we only started asking in the second wave of our survey.

We see the strong, consistent downward trends in support for delaying elections, the simple average of responses by party and wave on a 1-5 scale where 1 is “strongly oppose” and 5 is “strongly support.” This is really unpopular!

But in Wave 4—so just over the past two weeks—we’ve seen the emergence of a partisan gap in support for delaying elections. Democrats continue to grow more opposed to delaying elections over time, while Republicans have stabilized at an average of 2 (so, mild opposition) on a scale of 1-5.

By contrast, we see a massive (and growing) gap in support for voting by mail: this question asks whether respondents agree with the position that “all Americans should be given the opportunity to vote by mail this November.” Democrats overwhelmingly support this. Republicans have been less supportive and are growing even less so.

Troubling signs. But can we say anything more about this?

Yes, we can. In asking about delaying elections, starting in Wave 3 we began randomizing the justification for delaying elections. One justification is public health minded: “if it means protecting people.” The other justification is political: “because a crisis is not a time for politics.” Here is what we discover when we compare responses across treatment conditions, parties, and waves:

In wave 3, the political message was more effectual in eliciting support for delaying elections, and its effects were basically the same across parties.

In wave 4, the political message is still more effectual in eliciting support for delaying elections, and these effects are basically the same across parties. But Democrats on the whole have just shifted further against delaying elections (in the graph, they’ve moved “to the left”).

The news is still mostly good. Most people of all parties oppose delaying elections. But the news was a lot better** when partisanship didn’t matter at all. Something else for America’s democrats to keep their eyes on.


* Pandemic Politics! Forthcoming in 2022 from Princeton University Press, and perfect for your book club or long flight.
** Take it from Calvin.