The 2020 election and its record-setting turnout cast serious doubt on Trump’s (frankly absurd) claim last year that if voting was expanded, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” President Biden only narrowly won and Democrats lost a number of House seats. “Anyone who presumes that making voting easier has some sort of across-the-board partisan advantage that benefits the Democratic Party is misunderstanding the facts,” said Schraufnagel.
So in the long run, additional barriers to voting could actually hurt Republicans, dampening turnout among white voters without a college degree, who have become a huge part of the GOP base. Fraga told me this is why he thinks “the polarization on voting access by party” — where Democrats generally favor making it easier to vote while Republicans oppose it — “seems totally backwards.”
To be sure, though, Fraga’s own research has found that white voters, regardless of how easy or hard it is for them to vote, consistently turn out at higher rates than voters of color, so we do want to be careful of not reading too much into this. Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist at Georgia State University who studies the effects of polarization on democracy, told me that she thought the current emphasis on voter restrictions boiled down to Republicans thinking they could appeal to Trump’s base by codifying his baseless claims of voter fraud. “[Republicans] know they have to attract Donald Trump supporters who now believe there is fraud,” said McCoy. “So a large part of the current efforts to change voter laws was a direct response to this last election.” Large majorities of Republicans continue to believe Biden’s win is not legitimate, and a March survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 28 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning people agreed that “everything possible should be done” to make voting easy, a steep drop from 48 percent in October 2018.