May 01, 2020

ABA civic survey: Support for online voting jumps after pandemic hits

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2020 — Support for online voting has increased sharply among the American public since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to a new American Bar Association survey.  

The vast majority of Americans also said they are not willing to suspend freedom of speech or freedom of the press during a national emergency such as the current pandemic. But just over half (54%) support suspending the First Amendment right of freedom of assembly during such an emergency.

The results are from the ABA 2020 Survey of Civic Literacy — the second annual survey carried out as part of the nation’s Law Day, which is celebrated every year on May 1.

A nationally representative survey was conducted by telephone March 9-13 and an updated survey was conducted April 7-11 by DAPA Research on behalf of the ABA. The surveys covered a variety of legal and civic knowledge topics, including opinions on current events and how well Americans understand basic principles underlying U.S. democracy.

“The ABA’s Survey of Civic Literacy gauges people’s knowledge of the Constitution and explores Americans’ opinions on some of the greatest challenges to the sustainability of our democracy — denials of voting rights and affronts to women’s rights,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “The survey highlights the need for all Americans to be knowledgeable about their rights and engaged in our democratic process.”

In the March poll, conducted before the pandemic crisis had overtaken the country, 63% said they opposed giving Americans the ability to vote online rather than going to a polling booth. But the April poll, conducted when much of the country was under stay-at-home orders because of the public health crisis, found that opposition to online voting had shrunk to 40%. Support soared from 34% in March to 55% in April.

Asked in the April poll who has the legal authority to issue statewide quarantines or stay-at-home orders in the United States, most people (71%) correctly identified the state governors. But 18% inaccurately thought it is the president’s power.

In both surveys, public support for permitting voting before the official Election Day was strong.

In other findings:

  • Separation of powers: More than 1 in 7 adults in the U.S. incorrectly believed the executive branch of the U.S. government is more powerful than the legislative and judicial branches. Slightly fewer than 1 in 8 believed the judiciary is superior to the other two.
  • Voter fraud and voter IDs: A majority (52%) said that they believed voter fraud is a major problem in the U.S. electoral system, and a large majority (82%) supported requiring voters to present an ID to prove their identity before voting.
  • Restoring voting rights: A majority (72%) supported restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences.
  • Electoral college: Less than half (46%) knew that votes in the Electoral College are allocated to states based on the number of senators and representatives they have in Congress. One out of every 3 people surveyed (33%) thought electoral votes are based on the number of registered voters in each state.
  • ERA: A large majority (83%) supported the ERA, a constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal legal rights to all regardless of gender.
  • 19th Amendment: Just over half (57%) knew that the 19th Amendment – which has been the subject of widespread news coverage this year, on its 100th anniversary — guaranteed women the national right to vote. Nineteen percent incorrectly thought it guaranteed rights to all, regardless of gender.
  • Supreme Court: While 61% knew that John Roberts is chief justice of the United States, 1 in 9 (11%) thought it was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The survey also assessed how well most adults understand the basics of American democracy. The results were mixed. The vast majority knew the first three words of the U.S. Constitution (89%), what the first 10 amendments of the Constitution are called (84%) and what the Declaration of Independence did (83%).

But some respondents did not understand the rights and responsibilities of non-citizens. For example, 22% thought non-citizens do not have free speech rights and 12% thought non-citizens do not have due process rights.

To read the full survey, visit ambar.org/civicsurvey. For a video of some of the survey results, click here.

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