Democracy Fund: Quality Poll Work Inspires Voter Confidence

[Image via cityofmadison]

A new study by the Democracy Fund finds that quality poll work can go a long way toward improving voters’ confidence in the process. Jack Santucci, Elections Research Fellow, has more:

What makes Americans trust the electoral process? How can Democracy Fund work to build trust? We spend a lot of time thinking about these issues, since trust in elections and institutions more broadly are essential to healthy democracy. In order to inform our work on trust and election administration, we partnered with Reed College and the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study.

Our survey of 1,000 Americans turned up two important results in the ‘trust’ framework. First, confidence in vote-counting depends in part on who wins or loses. [I’ve discussed this before on this blog – DMCj] At the same time, competent poll workers may help bolster voters’ trust in elections …

[P]eople who rated their poll workers highly tended to express higher confidence. For example, 60.4 percent of respondents rated their poll workers as “excellent,” and 63.7 percent of those people were “very confident” in the counting of their votes.

Going a step further, we used logistic regression to test the relationship between the polling-place experience and change in one’s voter confidence. This analysis also accounted for age, race, gender, education, income, and vote choice.

On average, respondents who said their poll workers did an “excellent job” were less likely to report lower confidence post-election than those who said “poor job” – 3.4 times less likely among Trump voters and 2.6 times less likely for Clinton voters.

What made people rate poll workers highly? One factor stood out in our data: a perception that poll workers “knew the proper procedures.” 58 percent of respondents who reported that perception also said they were “very confident” that their votes had been counted as intended. This relationship held in a logistic regression controlling for age, race, gender, education, income, vote choice, and a raft of other potential reasons for rating poll workers highly (e.g., politeness, tending to voters waiting in line, et cetera).

Given the prevalence in 2016 of rhetoric about “hacking” and “rigging” —as well as other, more specific worries across partisan and racial groups—we were pleased to find that competent poll workers likely boost trust…

We hope these data … spark a larger conversation about the importance of recruiting and training poll workers. Americans rely on poll workers to understand and help voters navigate election processes. To further promote trust in elections, election officials and advocates can and should continue to support poll workers’ success.

This conclusion may not be surprising – after all, quality service in any situation tends to boost confidence in the experience and voting is no exception – but it’s important nonetheless. Election officials already understand the importance of recruiting quality workers to staff the tables on Election Day, but this data suggests that doing so can reduce the likelihood of doubts about the outcome afterwards. That’s increasingly important in today’s polarized partisan environment. Kudos to Jack and the entire Democracy Fund team for this work … stay tuned!

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