University of California San Diego

COVID-19 Opens a Partisan Gap on Voting by Mail

Newswise — Before the pandemic, there wasn’t any difference in the rates at which Democratic and Republican voters actually cast their ballots by mail or in-person. That may change now.

Based on nationally representative surveys conducted in the spring of 2020 and through the summer, researchers report a significantly greater preference for mail, or absentee, ballots among Democrats than among Republicans.  The researchers document for the first time a partisan gap in stated preferences in April 2020. By June, that gap had doubled – from a 10% difference in April to a 20% one in June. The gap was even wider among those exposed to scientific projections about the COVID-19 pandemic, with Democrats then expressing even greater preferences for mail ballots while Republicans were unaffected.

These findings are detailed in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After finalizing their PNAS paper, the research team – members of the New Electorate Project from UC San Diego, UC Riverside and the University of Southern California – continued to survey America's eligible voters. The partisan gap, they say, has continued to grow: By late August, more than half of Democrats but less than a quarter of Republicans said they personally preferred to vote by mail.

“A serious partisan divide has opened up on preferences for voting by mail and has grown from a gap to a gulf over the past several months,” said Thad Kousser, a UC San Diego professor of political science, who is senior author on the PNAS study and the New Electorate Project’s principal investigator.


Study also finds widespread, bipartisan support for mail ballots  

An encouraging finding: Personal preferences aside, there is bipartisan support for making mail ballots available to all voters who want them.

“Despite the polarization, we see support across the board for making voting more accessible,” said Mackenzie Lockhart, corresponding author on the PNAS study and a political science doctoral candidate at UC San Diego.

“In all our surveys, a majority of Republicans and Democrats supported not only making vote-by-mail ballots available to anyone who wants them,” Lockhart said, “but also sending ballots directly to every registered voter, regardless of how they intend to vote.” 

Kousser notes that policies allowing any voter who requests an absentee ballot to cast their vote this way are place in most states, including nearly every swing state in the presidential election.


Why the gap?

The researchers attribute the growth in the partisan divide to two things: signals from partisan elites in both parties and Republican partisans’ distrust in science and experts.

“Republican and Democratic lawmakers have staked out very different positions on voting by mail and voters have begun to notice,” Lockhart said. “But on top of that, our evidence suggests that voters’ views on COVID-19 are probably also polarizing the issue. We found that scientific predictions about the COVID-19 pandemic had much smaller effects on Republicans than Democrats and contributed to a larger gap between partisans.”


Will the gap matter in November?

Each of the surveys was conducted with more than 5,600 Americans of voting age. What remains an open question is whether there will now also be a partisan difference in actual voting behaviors, with Republicans turning out to vote in person at polling places at greater rates than Democrats. And will Democrats, in turn, vote at greater rates by mail ballot – which, depending on state laws, they’ll then drop off at polling places or secure drop-boxes, or send through the mail?  

Also an open question: Will this gap affect the outcomes of the 2020 U.S. presidential election?

“We don’t know what will happen in November,” Lockhart said, “and if things go smoothly with both voting methods, then the partisan differences we found might not matter. But, based on our results, if either mode of voting (in-person or by mail) ends up not running smoothly, that’s when these differences in how partisans want to vote could matter.”

If a spike in infection rates makes voting in-person more difficult or delays in the mail mean mail ballots arrive after the deadline, Lockhart said, how exactly partisans decide to vote could have a big effect on the election.

The study’s other co-authors are Seth Hill of UC San Diego, Jennifer Merolla of UC Riverside and Mindy Romero of the University of Southern California

The New Electorate Project is funded by the UC Office of the President.


Filters close

Showing results

110 of 3817
Released: 30-Oct-2020 6:35 PM EDT
UCLA Health infectious disease experts tout critical role mask wearing plays in limiting spread of COVID-19
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences

With thousands of new cases logged daily and a vaccine to fight COVID-19 still in development, UCLA Health infectious disease experts are encouraging people to continue to wear masks as the best method of protecting against virus transmission.

Released: 30-Oct-2020 5:35 PM EDT
Surgeon General expects COVID-19 vaccine to be available by year’s end
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences

In a wide-ranging talk with UCLA Health physicians, Wednesday, Oct. 28, United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, addressed the politicization of the pandemic and the means of containing the spread of COVID-19. He also offered hope that a vaccine for the virus will be available by year’s end.

Released: 30-Oct-2020 4:15 PM EDT
Study shows myocarditis linked to COVID-19 not as common as believed
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center - New Orleans

A study conducted by Richard Vander Heide, MD, PhD, Professor and Director of Pathology Research at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, and Marc Halushka, MD, PhD, Professor of Pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggests myocarditis caused by COVID-19 may be a relatively rare occurrence.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 3-Nov-2020 11:00 AM EST Released to reporters: 30-Oct-2020 3:00 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 3-Nov-2020 11:00 AM EST The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise: 247373_web.jpg
Released: 30-Oct-2020 2:30 PM EDT
Researcher develops app to reach Black community with COVID-19 information
University of Cincinnati

A University of Cincinnati cardiologist is partnering with researchers in St. Louis and rural Georgia to develop a smartphone app that will deliver COVID-19 information and education that is targeted toward Black communities.

Newswise: 247467_web.jpg
Released: 30-Oct-2020 1:55 PM EDT
SARS-CoV-2 might attack red marrow and block new erythrocytes formation
Far Eastern Federal University

Specialists from the Department of Fundamental Medicine of Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) with Russian and Japanese colleagues have probed into mechanisms of COVID-19 inside-the-body distribution linked to erythrocytes damaging. According to researchers, the virus might attack red marrow, thus being detrimental not only for erythrocytes in the bloodstream but also for the process of the formation of the new ones.

Released: 30-Oct-2020 12:40 PM EDT
Government of Canada awards $2.5M to McMaster University to support the COVID-19 border study with McMaster HealthLabs
McMaster University

McMaster University has been awarded $2.5 million from the Government of Canada to support the McMaster HealthLabs (MHL) Canadian International COVID-19 Surveillance Border Study at Toronto Pearson International Airport, being run in partnership with Air Canada and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).

Released: 30-Oct-2020 12:00 PM EDT
5 Big Questions on Health Care and COVID-19
University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The coronavirus pandemic has once again thrust the unusual state of American health care into the spotlight. With a presidential election that could have a dramatic impact on the state of health care for millions on 3 November, Professor Vivian Riefberg considers the state of the industry.

Newswise: Infection by Confection: COVID-19 and the Risk of Trick-or-Treating
Released: 30-Oct-2020 11:05 AM EDT
Infection by Confection: COVID-19 and the Risk of Trick-or-Treating
University of California San Diego Health

Researchers determined that COVID-19 transmission risk via Halloween candies is low, even when they are handled by infected people, but handwashing and disinfecting collected sweets reduces risk even further.

Newswise:Video Embedded third-spike-in-covid-19-cases-plus-the-vaccine-trials-live-expert-panel-for-october-29-3pm-edt
Released: 30-Oct-2020 9:40 AM EDT
TRANSCRIPT AND VIDEO AVAILABLE: "Third spike" in COVID-19 cases, plus the vaccine trials: Live Expert Panel for October 29

"Third spike" in COVID-19 cases, plus the vaccine trials: Live Expert Panel for October 29, 3PM EDT

Showing results

110 of 3817