The survey of 1,259 registered voters in the state conducted Oct. 22-24 explored issues related to the integrity of the 2020 election and how people will react to the outcome.
A new survey by the Elon University Poll has found a general lack of confidence among a broad section of register voters in North Carolina that Americans will accept the results of Tuesday’s presidential election, and also that three-fourths of voters in the state are very or some concerned about violence breaking out after the election.
The survey of 1,259 N.C. voters found that about 60 percent are confident the election process will be fair, with 67 percent confident that votes will be counted properly and 77 percent confident that legally eligible voters able to vote without running into any problems.
The Elon Poll gauged concerns about election interference and found that more than 40 percent have little to no confidence that the election’s outcome will escape the influence of foreign governments.
About half of all voters — 52 percent — say they are very or somewhat concerned about voters being intimidated or harassed when they go to vote, and 54 percent say they are equally concerned about the spread of COVID-19 from in-person voting. About two-thirds of voters are concerned that mail-in voting could lead to election fraud, and 70 percent are concerned about the rejection of mail-in ballots.
Fifty-six percent of registered voters in the state are confident that most Americans will accept the outcome of the presidential contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden but believe it’s less likely Trump will. Only 43 percent are confident that Trump will accept the outcome, compared to 67 percent who are confident Biden will.
“Looking at the system as a whole, a majority of North Carolina voters are skeptical about many aspects of electoral integrity,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and associate professor of political science. “Voters are particularly concerned about violence after the election. However, when it comes to their own personal experience voting this year, most North Carolinians report a positive experience. “
Generally speaking, the youngest voters — those between 18 and 24 years old — are the most concerned about how the election will be conducted and how the outcome will be interpreted and received. Republican voters express more concern about election fraud and ineligible voters casting ballots while Democrats are more concerned about mail-in ballots being properly counted and voter harassment and intimidation. Male voters are generally more confident in the fairness of the election process than female voters, and Black voters are much more confident that only eligible voters will be able to vote than White voters.
By and large, N.C. voters say they are more interested in the election than they were in the last presidential election four years ago, with about two-thirds saying they are paying more attention. However, many think it won’t be over on Election Day on Nov. 3. While 33 percent say they expect to know who won the presidential election on Election Day, another 40 percent say it will take a few additional days, with 26 percent saying it will take at least a week. If the election outcome heads to the U.S. Supreme Court, two-thirds say they trust the court “a great deal” or “somewhat” to determine the outcome while a third say they trust the court “only a little” or “not at all.”
The survey of 1,259 N.C. registered voters was conducted Oct. 22-24 using an online opt-in sample marketplace. The survey has a credibility interview of +/- 3 percent. The credibility interval is an accuracy measure for opt-in online surveys. A fuller explanation of the credibility interview and the survey methodology are available in the full report.
The survey was conducted by the Elon Poll in partnership with The Raleigh News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun.
The integrity of the election
The 2020 election season has been marked by a global pandemic, misinformation on social media, allegations of potential election fraud and foreign interference and a shift in the methods and timing of voting for millions of Americans. Given the many variables at play, the Elon Poll sought to explore what N.C. voters think about the integrity of this election and how concerned they are about the outcome and the aftermath.
Among all voters, 59 percent say they are very or somewhat confident, but that rate was much lower among the youngest voters. Only 11 percent of N.C. voters 18 to 24 years old say they are “very confident” that the election process will be fair, while about a quarter of voters or more in other age groups hold that view.
Voters not affiliated with either major party were also less likely to believe that the election will be fair. Sixty percent of those voters said they are very or somewhat confident the election would be fair, compared to 73 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats. Rural voters generally have less confidence that the election will be fair, and female voters also had less confidence, with 62 percent saying they are very or somewhat confident that the election will be fair compared to 77 percent of male voters.
“Across most items in our survey, the youngest voters were the most cynical about the system,” Husser said. “Given that lifelong voting habits often form in a person’s first few elections, the 2020 election has the potential to define a generation of voters relationship with the democratic process.”
The poll found wide variation by party affiliation and race when voters were asked how confident they are that only eligible voters will be able to vote. While 89 percent of Democrats said they were very or somewhat confident, that fell to 59 percent for Republicans. Also, Black voters were significantly more confident in the ability of legally eligible voters to be able to vote, with 84 percent saying they were very or somewhat confident compared to 67 percent of White voters.
What about the system itself? The Elon Poll asked voters whether they would prefer the U.S. elect the president by national popular vote, the Electoral College or whether “it depends.” Overall, 51 percent of N.C. voters favor the national popular vote, 29 percent prefer the Electoral College and 19 percent say it depends.
The poll found clear differences of opinion based on party affiliation, with 75 percent of Democrats preferring the national popular vote compared to 32 percent of Republicans. Forty-eight percent of Republicans favor the Electoral College compared to 12 percent of Democrats.
Accepting the results
Given the disrupted nature of the election process this year, in part because of the pandemic, there have been repeated questions about whether the public and the candidates will accept the results.
A little more than half — 56 percent — of N.C. voters are very or somewhat confident Americans will accept the results of the presidential election. The Elon Poll also asked voters for their personal take. Sixty-three percent of N.C. voters say they will personally accept the results of the presidential election, regardless of who wins, while 33 percent of voters say “it depends” and only 4 percent say they will not accept the results of the election.
Less than half of N.C. voters — 43 percent — are very or somewhat confident that President Trump will accept the results of the election, though there is a significant split along party lines. While 76 percent of Republicans say they are confident Trump will accept the results, that falls to 20 percent among Democrats. Whites are significantly more likely to say Trump will accept the results than Blacks, and male voters are more likely to hold that view than female voters.
Voters are more confident that Biden will accept the results of the election, with two-thirds very or somewhat confident he will. There was again a strong split along party lines, with 87 percent of Democrats confident Biden will accept the results compared to 54 percent of Republicans. Among Black voters, 81 percent are confident Biden will accept the results compared to 63 percent of White voters.
So what does that mean for how people will react to the election results? The Elon Poll asked voters whether they were concerned that violence would follow the election and found that 38 percent are very concerned and another 36 percent are somewhat concerned about post-election violence. Both Republicans and Democrats shared a high level of concern about violence, younger voters were more concerned about violence than older voters, and White voters were slightly more concerned about violence than Black voters.
“Both Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters tended to be confident Joe Biden would accept the results of the election,” Husser said. “However, only Republicans felt the same about Donald Trump. This sets the stage for a very tense set of events in the final hours of Nov. 3.”
Concerns about potential foreign interference in the election appear to be widespread among N.C. voters. Forty-three percent of N.C. voters say they are only a little confident or not confident at all that “foreign governments won’t be able to affect the election’s outcome.”
A majority of voters of all ages is confident foreign governments won’t have an impact, but the youngest voters think differently. Fifty-two percent of these voters have little or no confidence that foreign governments won’t be able to impact the election outcome, with nearly one in four saying they have no confidence.
Along with age, there’s a difference along party lines, race and genders. Republicans, Whites and men are less likely to believe foreign governments will influence the election outcome than Democrats, Blacks and women.
Some of those same demographic splits are seen when the issue shifts to potential election fraud. Asked about concerns about whether mail-in voting will lead to election fraud, 62 percent of all voters say they are very or somewhat concerned. Republicans and Whites were more concerned than Democrats and Black, and there was little difference based on gender.
The poll found some of the biggest demographic splits when voters were asked about harassment and intimidation at the polls. Forty-one percent of the youngest voters say they are very concerned about harassment and intimidation, compared to only 16 percent of those voters between 45 and 64 years old and 11 percent of those voters older than 65.
The gap between Republicans and Democrats was also pronounced, with 60 percent of Democrats very or somewhat concerned compared to 45 percent of Republicans. Among Black voters, 63 percent were very or somewhat concerned about harassment and intimidation compared to 47 percent of White voters.
Another potential issue — the rejection of mail-in ballots — is also on the minds of voters. The Elon Poll found 70 percent of all voters are very or somewhat concerned that absentee ballots delivered by mail will be rejected. Looking more closely, 76 percent of Black voters were concerned about this type of ballot rejection compared to 67 percent of White voters.
When will the results be known?
There has been ample discussion that various factors could contribute to a delay in when the final results of the presidential election are known. The Elon Poll found that a third of voters believe they will know the results on Election Day while 41 percent say it could take a few days, 19 percent say it will take more than a week but less than a month, and 7 percent saying it will take more than a month.
Generally speaking, older voters were less likely to say they will know the results on Election Day than younger voters, and Democrats believe they will know the results sooner while Republicans believe it will take longer for the results to be known. Similarly, Black voters expect the results to be finalized sooner than White voters do.
What if the final decision relies on the U.S. Supreme Court settling an election dispute? If it comes to that, 25 percent of voters say they trust the court “a great deal” to determine the outcome, while 41 percent trust the court “somewhat,” another 20 percent trust the court “only a little” and 13 percent trust the court “not at all.”
Republicans, Whites and men are more likely to place trust in the court to determine the outcome than Democrats, Blacks and women. Age is also a potential factor, with older voters more likely to trust the court than younger voters.