Washington, D.C. (July 17, 2018)—Americans are sharply divided by political party, race, and ethnicity regarding what they consider to be the biggest problems facing the U.S. electoral system, according to a newly released PRRI/The Atlantic poll. In another possible perception gap between elites and everyone else, many survey respondents were not concerned about civic issues that have received major attention from the press, academics, and those in government: notably foreign influence in American elections, and the suppression of voters and voting rights.

Only 45 percent of survey respondents said outside influence from foreign governments is a major problem in American elections, along starkly partisan lines: 68 percent of Democrats versus 22 percent of Republicans, along with 40 percent of Independents. The PRRI/The Atlantic poll also finds enormous gaps in voter literacy, with a majority of Americans lacking knowledge over what factors disqualify people from voting.

The poll, conducted between June 6-18, 2018, asked Americans to share their views on a number of issues relating to voting and political engagement. It is the first in a series of surveys by The Atlantic and PRRI examining challenges to America’s democratic institutions and practices. The Atlantic staff writers Emma Green and Vann Newkirk are reporting on the findings today in the pieces: “One Country, Two Radically Different Narratives” and “Voter Suppression Is Warping Democracy.”

Additional topline findings follow, with complete results at PRRI.org. All results should be attributed to PRRI/The Atlantic. Please be in touch with questions or to interview PRRI or The Atlantic about this poll.

Divides on the country’s direction, major civic problems: Demonstrating the stark divide between the two major parties, 91 percent of Democrats think America is on the “wrong track,” compared to 70 percent of Republicans who say the country is going in the “right direction.”

As The Atlantic’s Emma Green reports, “Respondents identified a few areas as big concerns: Two-thirds said wealthy individuals and corporations have too much influence in the U.S. election system, and another two-thirds said that too few people vote. Strong majorities agreed that the media is biased against certain political candidates, and that uninformed voters are a major problem within the American electoral system.

“But respondents’ opinions were sharply split along partisan lines. Only 42 percent of self-identified Republicans see the outsized influence of money in politics as a big issue, compared to 82 percent of Democrats who say the same. Both Republicans and Democrats are concerned about low voter turnout, but 78 percent of Democrats said this is a major problem, versus 58 percent of Republicans. And while 81 percent of Republicans see media bias toward certain political candidates as a major problem, only 41 percent of Democrats say the same thing.”

Deep structural barriers to the ballot for black and Latino voters: The survey results, as The Atlantic's Vann Newkirk reports, “indicate that voter suppression is commonplace, and that voting is routinely harder for people of color than for their white counterparts.”

Nine percent of black respondents and nine percent of Hispanic respondents indicated that, in the last election, they (or someone in their household) were told that they lacked the proper identification to vote. Just three percent of whites said the same. Ten percent of black respondents and 11 percent of Hispanic respondents report that they were incorrectly told that they weren’t listed on voter rolls, as opposed to 5 percent of white respondents.

The poll also shows that fewer than half (38 percent) of respondents view the issue of eligible voters being denied the right to vote as a major problem in America’s elections. However, there are marked racial divides on this issue, with 62 percent of black Americans and 60 percent of Hispanic Americans citing this as a major problem, compared to only 27 percent of whites.

Americans don’t know what disqualifies voters: More than one in four (26 percent) Americans say that they do not know whether being an American citizen—perhaps the most basic question of voter eligibility—is a requirement to be eligible to vote in their state. The following percentages were uncertain whether these factors disqualify voting:

  • Not having a permanent address (60 percent)
    Being late to pay your taxes (52 percent)
    Having outstanding parking tickets or unpaid utility bills (47 percent)
    Being convicted of a felony (43 percent)
    Not being able to speak English fluently (36 percent)

Methodology: The 2018 Voter Engagement Survey was conducted by PRRI in partnership with The Atlantic among a random sample of adults (age 18 and up) living in the United States and who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel. The survey included a national sample of 1,032 people representing all 50 states as well as oversamples of respondents in Illinois (638), Ohio (608), Michigan (595), Minnesota (426), and Wisconsin (445). Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between June 6 and June 18, 2018. The survey was made possible by generous grants from The Joyce Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and The McKnight Foundation. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 3.3 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.2.

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