As lawmakers across the country debate voter ID legislation and various bills to change voting requirements, just over a third of Republicans believe officials should make it as easy as possible to vote, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The numbers from Pew show Americans are sharply divided on partisan and racial grounds in their attitudes toward voter access. Some 35 percent of Republicans think voting should be as easy as possible, while 63 percent think people should have to prove they want to vote by registering ahead of time. By contrast, 84 percent of Democrats favor making voting as easy as possible, while just 15 percent think potential voters should have to register ahead of time.
At least 99 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced in 31 states since January, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The most common voting restrictions under consideration are voter ID measures, which disproportionately affect minority, elderly and low-income voters. Federal courts have blocked voter ID measures in Texas and North Carolina, ruling they discriminated against minorities.
Charles Stewart, a political science professor at MIT who has studied public opinion about voting, said the results of the Pew survey are consistent with recent trends.
“Conservatives tend to be more distrustful of others, on average, tend to think that democracy can get out of hand, more readily than liberals do. That’s regularly shown up in answers to questions about extending the franchise,” he told HuffPost.
While there isn’t scientific evidence yet, Stewart pointed to an increase in partisan attitudes toward voting since 2010, “with this belief that certain types of election reforms will wildly expand the franchise or kind of control it so only the right people vote, ‘it’s us versus them.’”
“There’s a strategic idea that if more people vote, that’ll help Democrats, and if fewer people vote, that’ll help Republicans,” he said, adding that research indicates the effects of voter ID laws or Election Day registration in that regard are “relatively small.”
The Pew survey also shows 79 percent of African Americans believe voting should be as easy as possible while 54 percent of whites say the same. Nineteen percent of African Americans and 44 percent of whites said citizens should have to register to vote ahead of time. Hispanics in the survey also favored making it easier to vote, 64 percent to 35 percent.
Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, attributed the attitudes toward voter access to past efforts to restrict the franchise.
“When voters ― whether Dems, Blacks, or otherwise ― see repeated rollbacks, the response is to push back against that, to ensure just the opposite ― that instead of rolling back the right to vote what’s needed is greater access,” she wrote in an email. “I suppose Black voters favor making the system more accessible because they’ve seen or heard stories from family members about how hard it was to gain that right and, significantly, to preserve it. Some suffered blood, sweat, and tears for that right; others lost their lives. Voting, in light of that past, becomes a sacred right, and one that can’t be limited ever again.”
Some states are considering measures such as automatic voter registration and changes to same-day voter registration that could dramatically affect young voters. Attitudes toward voting access also vary by age, the survey shows. While 71 percent of voters between 18 and 29 said voting should be as easy as possible, just 54 percent of respondents over 65 said the same.