Americans Split on Problems With Electoral System, Survey Finds

Americans Split on Problems With Electoral System, Survey Finds

While majorities of Democrats (78 percent) and Republicans (58 percent) believe that low voter turnout is a major problem, Americans are split by political party and race/ethnicity on other issues affecting the U.S. electoral system, a report from the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic finds.

The first in a series of surveys that examines current challenges to democratic institutions and practices, the report, American Democracy in Crisis: The Challenges of Voter Knowledge, Participation, and Polarization (36 pages, PDF), found that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to see the influence of wealthy individuals as a problem (82 percent vs. 42 percent), while Republicans were more likely than Democrats to see media bias as a significant issue (81 percent vs. 41 percent). Conducted by Growth for Knowledge, a German marketing research firm, and based on a survey of more than a thousand members of its Knowledge Panel, the report also found that Democrats (56 percent), African Americans (62 percent), and Latinos (60 percent) were more likely to say that eligible voters being denied the right to vote was a major problem than were Republicans (19 percent) or whites in general (27 percent).

Funded by the Joyce, Kresge, and McKnight foundations, the report also found widespread support for a range of reforms that would expand voting access, including allowing people convicted of a felony to vote after they have served their sentences (72 percent of all respondents), automatic voter registration (67 percent), and same-day voter registration (61 percent). According to the survey, 65 percent of Americans — 81 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans — said presidential elections should be decided based on the popular vote, while 32 percent — 17 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans — support preservation of the Electoral College.

In addition, the report found that significant percentages of Americans don't know what disqualifies a person from voting in their state. For example, more than a quarter (26 percent) of respondents didn't know whether U.S. citizenship was required, while 44 percent of respondents in states without early voting incorrectly believed they could vote before election day, and 37 percent of those in states with same-day registration believed they could not vote without being registered in advance.

"Americans' lack of understanding of their state's voting laws is alarming for a mature democracy such as ours and indicates a broad need for civic education," said PRRI chief executive Robert P. Jones. "As political campaigns become more sophisticated and competitive, there is a real danger that voters — particularly voters of color who report more difficulties voting — can be manipulated or discouraged from casting an eligible vote."