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Waning Confidence in the Electoral Process

Rachel Lawler October 15, 2019
photo - Three Voters at Polling Booths

Just ahead of the next Democratic presidential primary debate, and as California heads into a particularly consequential election year, residents express the lowest confidence in the state’s electoral system ever recorded by the PPIC Statewide Survey.

In our most recent survey, 36% of all adults and 42% of likely voters say that they have either a great deal (18% adults, 22% likely voters) or quite a lot (18% adults, 20% likely voters) of confidence in California’s electoral system. Confidence has continually declined since we first asked this question in October 2004.

figure - Confidence in the Electoral Process Has Declined Significantly

Levels of confidence in the electoral system differ across partisan lines. Today, Democrats (52%) are slightly more likely than they were in 2004 (45%) to say they have either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the system. But confidence has declined somewhat among independents (35% today; 47% 2004) and significantly among Republicans (27% today; 76% 2004).

Since 2004, confidence has declined across nearly all age, education, income, and racial/ethnic groups—with the exception of African Americans, who express similar levels of confidence today (37%) as they did in 2004 (32%).

Much recent debate has centered on two opposing concerns about elections: some are concerned about voter fraud, in which ineligible people vote, while others are concerned about voter suppression, in which eligible voters are unable to cast a ballot.

Currently, voter fraud is the stronger concern. A slight majority of Californians (54%) and likely voters (57%) are either very or somewhat concerned that it is too easy for ineligible people to vote. But many still consider voter suppression to be an issue, with 45% of all adults and 42% of likely voters either very or somewhat concerned that it is too hard for eligible people to vote.

Views on these issues differ across party lines. Republicans (79%) are far more likely than independents (53%) or Democrats (43%) to be either very or somewhat concerned about voter fraud. In contrast, Democrats (50%) are more likely than independents (43%) or Republicans (34%) to say voter suppression is either very or somewhat of a concern.

figure - Partisan Differences in Concerns about Voting in California Elections Are Sizeable

Concern about voter fraud has increased among certain groups since we last asked this question in 2017. In particular, we see increases among likely voters (57% today; 50% 2017), as well as among those age 55 and older (63% today; 53% 2017), Asian Americans (54% today; 43% 2017), and college graduates (48% today; 40% 2017).

Concern about voter suppression has grown among African Americans (66% today; 49% 2017), residents of the Inland Empire (54% today; 35% 2017), and Republicans (34% today; 22% 2017).

Governor Newsom recently signed legislation that will allow voters to register and vote on Election Day anywhere ballots are cast. This is the latest in a number of reforms meant to broaden voter access in the state. Stay tuned as we monitor Californians’ perceptions on these issues throughout this important election season.

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