AP/NORC poll: Americans losing enthusiasm for voting by mail

Perhaps this explains why Democrats have suddenly begun to proclaim in-person voting as a safe option. CNN explained last night that Democrats had reversed their insistence that mass-mailed ballots were required to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic during the election, an idea that seemed popular with the American public. Until now, anyway:

After months of warnings about the risks posed by in-person voting in a push to expand access to mail-in ballots, Democrats across the country are increasingly focused on communicating to voters that it is safe to cast their ballots in a voting booth.

The shift comes after a national legal campaign has successfully resulted in expanded access to mail-in voting in nearly every state — prompting an unprecedented shift in the way millions of Americans will be able to vote due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But as voting is set to begin in more states in the coming weeks, Democrats have settled on a strategy of emphasizing that all voting options, including in-person early and Election Day voting, are safe amid the pandemic.

And it’s not just the functionaries who have suddenly shifted positions. VP contender Kamala Harris sent out a tweet on Wednesday that featured septuagenarian Hillary Clinton pledging to vote in person (via Twitchy):

And former Obama health advisor Zeke Emanuel declared in-person voting as safe as grocery shopping … a point made repeatedly by conservatives and Trump administration officials the last several months:

All of this backtracking might be a response to a trend that the Associated Press picked up in their latest polling with NORC.  Americans have lost a significant amount of enthusiasm for mass mail-in voting over the course of the pandemic. Even support for looser restrictions on regular absentee-ballot applications has dropped below a majority, the survey found:

Overall, 39% of registered voters say they will vote by mail, well above the 21% who say they normally do so, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The rise is skewed toward backers of the former vice president, 53% of whom plan to vote by mail. Fifty-seven percent of Trump’s supporters say they’ll vote in person on Nov. 3.

Fifty-four percent of voters say they will vote before polls open on Election Day. In 2016, roughly 42% of voters did so.

Trump for months has denigrated mail voting, and Democrats have expressed concern about postal delays that could keep such ballots from being counted. The poll finds ebbing enthusiasm for mail voting: Only 28% of Americans say they would favor their state holding elections exclusively by mail, down from the 40% who said so in April as the coronavirus pandemic was first spreading in the U.S. and before Trump launched his anti-mail campaign.

Support for states allowing voters to cast an absentee ballot without requiring a reason is higher, but also down since April, from 56% to 47%.

Did Trump’s constant battling against the idea of mass-mailed ballots succeed? Perhaps, especially given the partisan differences on the issue. However, it seems equally likely that the failures in New York and California vote-by-mail primaries had an impact here, too, especially the high-profile faceplant in New York. When voters see spoilage rates ranging from 3% to as high as 20-25% (in New York City), they tend to lose confidence in the systems that produce those rates.

This level of decline matters more because of the lack of ground-game GOTV efforts, too. The GOP and the Trump campaign are doing the necessary person-to-person contacts that drive in-person ballot-casting, while Joe Biden and Democrats aren’t doing any of it at all. They must have expected not to need it with a universal mail-in ballot option in place. Most states still haven’t adopted it, however, and now it looks like voters are less and less inclined to trust it. That means that the share of votes coming from in-person voting will rise, and that dramatically favors Trump. Small wonder that Democrats are suddenly hailing the safety of the polling stations after months of declaring them a no-go zone.

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