There are few more stark representations of the generation gap in American voting habits than the results of a just-released poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).
About half of respondents say they are certain to vote this November, about the same percentage as said that in the same period in 2014. Unlike 2014, though, the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who say they are certain to vote is about equal. In 2014, an election in which their party handily retained control of the House, Republicans were 17 points more likely to say they were certain to vote.
There is a gap by race — Hispanics are much less likely to say they are definitely going to vote in four months. There is also a gap by education, with college-educated whites saying they are 19 points more likely to vote than whites without a college education.
But that gap by age.
Those age 65 and older are a stunning 46 points more likely to say they are certain to vote than those under the age of 30. It is not new information older voters — wealthier, more likely to own homes, in more stable jobs — vote more regularly than younger voters, but that does not make the gap any less stark.
Interestingly, there is not much of a partisan gap on the question of whether it is a problem that too few people vote. Presented with a set of possible problems in the electoral system, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans said “too few people voting” was a major problem. The only other issue identified as a major problem by a majority of respondents from both parties was one that is perhaps related: too many uninformed people voting.
Republicans were more likely to identify uninformed voters as a problem than too few voters; among Democrats, those were flipped.
The most important partisan divide indicated in the poll, though, falls along different lines.
According to PRRI’s poll, more than half of Democrats identified eligible voters being denied the right to vote as a major problem — an issue that fewer than a quarter of Republicans said was a major problem. That was the least-cited problem by Republicans. The least-cited major problem by Democrats was people casting votes illegally — an issue more than half of Republicans said was a major problem.
PRRI put that question directly to poll respondents: Which is a bigger problem, voter disenfranchisement or voter fraud? About 4 in 10 voters said it was disenfranchisement; about the same percentage said it was fraud. The partisan gap was stark: “More than six in ten (62%) Democrats say voter disenfranchisement is the bigger problem,” the report reads, “while more than two-thirds (68%) of Republicans point to voter fraud as the greater concern.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how voter disenfranchisement affects populations differently, there was also a racial gap on the issue. Six in 10 black and Hispanic respondents said disenfranchisement was a major problem. Just over a quarter of whites agreed.
It is important to note there is a factual difference between disenfranchisement and voter fraud. Disenfranchisement often happens at a broad scale in states that pass new restrictions on voting. A study published in 2014, for example, found the equivalent of 122,000 fewer people voted in Kansas and Tennessee after new voter identification restrictions were passed in those states. Voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina were found by courts to be racially discriminatory by intent, given that it is often easier to write laws that target black and Hispanic voters than it is to target Democrats more broadly. Since such laws also often impose new financial burdens (new IDs, acquiring certain documents to prove citizenship), they often disproportionately prevent poorer Americans from voting — a group that often overlaps with nonwhites and with Democrats.
Voter fraud, on the other hand, is almost nonexistent. There are a handful of incidents each year in which people vote illegally, either intentionally or unintentionally. There is no evidence at all of widespread fraud involving even dozens of people, much less hundreds, thousands or — as President Trump would have it — millions. It is common for people to point to things they claim indicate fraud, like millions of dead people still appearing on state voter rolls, and to note investigations by state attorneys general (usually Republicans) into claims of rampant fraud.
The administration of George W. Bush tried to find rampant fraud, spending five years looking at the issue. Over that period, 86 people were convicted of fraud. For every fraud conviction under Bush, more than 1,400 were disenfranchised in Kansas and Tennessee.
Why the focus on fraud, then? The simplest explanation is that highlighting alleged fraud makes the case for new voter ID laws — which have the happy side effect of heavily disenfranchising Democrats.
There are certainly asterisks that could apply to other major problems identified by majorities. Is foreign interference in our elections really a major problem, as most Democrats feel? The debate over the effectiveness of Russia’s massive efforts in the 2016 election remains unsettled.
Is the most significant problem in politics actually media bias against candidates, as Republicans believe? Like the issue of voter fraud, there is political value in getting people to believe the media is biased, spurring doubt about legitimate reporting. That said, it is worth noting Republicans control the House, Senate and White House. They control most governors’ mansions and most state houses.
If candidates are suffering at the hands of the media, they appear to be Democrats.