NPR Poll Finds Americans Concerned, Divided on Election Security

[Screenshot image via NPR]

Americans are concerned about election security but deeply divided by party on a wide range of issues as the 2020 election gets underway, a new poll conducted for National Public Radio finds. Here’s NPR’s report:

Weeks before the first votes of the 2020 presidential election, Americans report a high level of concern about how secure that election will be and worry about the perils of disinformation, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they believed the U.S. is not very prepared or not prepared at all to keep November’s election safe and secure.

Reflecting the polarization of the Trump era, two-thirds of Democrats think the country isn’t prepared, while 85% of Republicans said they think it is.

“Like so many issues, Americans view election security from opposite poles of the partisan divide,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.

President Trump, who has often disputed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election, gets low marks from many voters on his handling of election security.

Driven by Democrats and independents, 56% of those surveyed think Trump has not done very much or has done nothing at all to make sure there will be no future election interference — although 75% of Republicans think he has done enough.

Despite these divisions, there appears to be some consensus that disinformation is a threat in 2020, though that consensus breaks down when the question is who should prevent it:

Intelligence and elections officials work hard to reassure voters about the integrity of the system, but there is concern about the effect of disinformation in the political discourse. False, misleading and agitating material were a big part of Russia’s active measures in 2016.

Americans retain concerns about this today; 59% of those surveyed reported that it is hard to tell the difference between what is factual and what is misleading information.

Despite nearly four years’ worth of attention to disinformation, 55% of Americans say it will be harder to identify deceptive information than it was in 2016.

Eighty-two percent of those surveyed said they believe they will read misleading information on social media and a similar proportion believe foreign countries will spread false information about candidates this year.

The public does not trust big social network and tech companies to prevent their platforms from being misused to present election interference, the poll revealed.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed are not confident about the tech companies, a 9-point increase from a similar 2018 NPR/Marist poll.

Despite casting blame on tech companies for spreading disinformation, there was little consensus on who should be most responsible for reducing its flow: 39% pointed to the media, 18% to tech companies, 15% to the government and 12% to the public itself.

Not surprisingly given Trump’s oft-repeated claim that the media peddles in “fake news,” 54% of Republicans say it’s the media’s responsibility to stop the spread of disinformation.

The divisions persist when Americans are asked about the biggest threat to the upcoming election, though most Americans say they have not personally experienced problems voting:

Americans who responded to the poll were divided about what they considered the biggest threat to the election — 35% said disinformation is the biggest threat; 24% blamed voter fraud; 16% said voter suppression; 15% blamed foreign interference.

In yet another sign that voters live in very different media bubbles, voter suppression was cited as the greatest threat for Democrats. Voter fraud topped the list for Republicans. Independents were most concerned with misleading information.

By an overwhelming margin, Americans said they found voting to be easy, and most have not encountered problems with confusing ballots, problems with their voter ID or registration or broken voting machines.

But more than a third of younger and nonwhite voters say they have experienced long lines.

In other news, local election officials get a vote of confidence – and respondents suggest the expected trend toward more mail and early ballots will continue in 2020:

Local election officials get relatively high marks from voters, with 68% expressing confidence that officials will run a fair election in 2020. Nearly 6 in 10 respondents say they plan to vote in person on Election Day. Twenty-three percent say they will vote by mail or absentee ballot. Another 18% said they would cast their ballot at an early voting site.

NPR’s poll is a useful reminder that while election security is on many Americans’ minds in 2020, the country is far from united on the threats we face – or who should be responsible for responding. It’s yet another sign that the election community will have its hands full not just in shielding the voting process from outside interference but also assuring voters that the process is working as it should. Stay tuned …

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