May 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Trump pollster finds strong demand for expanded absentee voting

Data: Fabrizio, Lee & Associates; Note: ±3.1% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

New survey research by one of President Trump's campaign pollsters shows broad support for more absentee voting and elections spending amid the pandemic — and an openness to other vote-by-mail efforts that Trump has criticized.

Why it matters: The polling, portions of which were shared with Axios, comes as coronavirus-related election reform efforts have become a political lightning rod, with President Trump dismissing mail-in voting as “corrupt” and “RIPE for FRAUD.”

  • The survey was conducted by Tony Fabrizio and David Lee for Secure Democracy, a nonpartisan elections group advocating "secure and fair" elections.
  • The group also has hired a lobbying and PR firm with strong Trump ties to educate policymakers about voting access options.

What they're saying: Voters "want as many options as possible to vote, especially the ability for all voters to request and cast an absentee ballot regardless of their circumstances," the pollsters write in a memo accompanying their findings.

  • "They support a number of proposals that would help bring this to fruition and agree that Congress should provide additional funding to cover the increased costs of conducting elections due to the Coronavirus outbreak," the memo says.

By the numbers: Three-fourths of the respondents said they favor states keeping polling locations open (so long as they meet health guidelines), but also giving all voters the option to vote absentee.

  • 82% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 70% of Republicans supported that dual option — and it was most popular with voters 65 and older.
  • 64% also said yes when the pollsters asked whether respondents favor sending every voter an absentee ballot application. Nearly half of Republicans support this idea, though Democrats are nearly twice as likely to, with independents somewhere in the middle.

About three in four also favor pre-paid postage for absentee voting; counting absentee ballots postmarked by election day; establishing secure, monitored drop-box locations for absentee ballots; and letting voters ask for absentee ballots through a website.

  • Two-thirds want local election officials to notify voters if they forget to sign their absentee ballot envelope and to allow them to correct their mistake.

Be smart: Republican politicians are more supportive of absentee options that require the voter to ask that a ballot to be sent to them, rather than vote-by-mail programs in which ballots are automatically sent to registered voters.

  • There is a school of thought that says if voting were made easier for lower-propensity voters it would benefit Democrats, although the evidence is more nuanced, as the New York Times has reported.
  • Trump recently said, "Mail ballots, they cheat," and that they "are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters. They go collect them. They are fraudulent in many cases. They have to vote. They should have voter ID, by the way."
  • Several states limit which voters can ask for absentee ballots.
  • Justin Clark, senior counsel to the Trump campaign, tells Axios: "The integrity of elections is what's most important." Clark said Democrats want to move to all-mail voting to eliminate voter ID, and charged that Democratic operatives would try to collect and deliver ballots selectively and make the system "unfair" and "insecure."

The state of play: Expanding access to absentee and mail-in ballots is a top priority for Democrats in the next coronavirus relief bill. Meanwhile, as the Washington Post has detailed, many GOP leaders have also said they support some aspects of such a push.

  • The urgency to loosen some of the voting restrictions increased after Wisconsin's April 7 primary, after which more than 50 people who voted in person or worked the polls during the state’s presidential primary tested positive for COVID-19, according to TIME.
  • 78% of the poll's voters said "it’s important for the federal government to provide additional funding to states and counties to cover the increased costs of conducting elections due to the Coronavirus outbreak."
  • That includes 67% of Republicans, 75% of independents and 90% of Democrats.

Read the memo.

Methodology: Fabrizio, Lee and Associates surveyed 1,000 registered voters April 17-20, using an online sample of known registered voters. Sample frame was stratified to represent registered voter distribution by state. Final data was weighted to reflect actual voter universe. Margin of sampling error for this survey is +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence interval.

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