The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections and Digital Democracy Projects, in collaboration with Dr. Mara Suttmann-Lea of Connecticut College and Dr. Michael Wagner of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was awarded the Evolving Election Administration Landscape Grant from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab in the fall of 2022.
Through this grant, we commissioned a survey through Morning Consult to assess who the public trusts to deliver information about how to vote, election administration, and election results. This survey was conducted at the national level, with an oversampling of three states: Colorado, Georgia, and Wisconsin.
Top Three Takeaways
1. State and local chief election officials are highly trusted for delivering election information across political party affiliation, age, and other key demographics.
When asked who voters turn to for various types of information about an election, voters are most likely to look to their state and local election officials, and search engines.
For information on the winner of an election, voters nationally and across the states surveyed are most likely to go to national television, local television, or a search engine.
There are also notable differences by age on this question: 18-34-year-olds report using search engines and social media at higher rates than other information sources for election information.
When asked to choose between two different messengers of information about the winner of an election, voters report being more likely to look to sources they are more familiar with: their favorite national news anchor, their favorite local television news anchor, their state chief election official, and their local chief election official.
Of 15 total messengers (including partisan and nonpartisan individuals, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Mark Zuckerberg), respondents selected their favorite national news anchor 57% of the time — regardless of who it was being compared against. Respondents selected their state and local chief election official 51 and 49 percent of the time, respectively. These messengers are also the most trusted across political parties nationally and within the states surveyed.
Among the specifically named messengers tested, when Anderson Cooper presented in a matchup, he was selected by 34% of voters. Tucker Carlson of FOX News, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, and podcaster Joe Rogan were selected less often in matchups they appeared in over the course of the experiment.
2. 76% of voters (89% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans) are confident that their votes will be counted accurately in the 2022 midterm election.
A majority of Republican voters are confident that their vote as well as votes in their state and local community were counted accurately in the 2020 election. Only 41% of Republican voters are confident that votes across the country were counted accurately in 2020.
44% of Republican and 10% of Democratic voters are not confident that votes across the country will be counted accurately in the 2022 midterm election.
- Among voters who are not confident votes in the midterm election will be counted accurately, they are most likely to report worrying about mail ballots (56%) and the integrity of the officials in charge of running elections (56%).
- Democratic voters not confident about votes being counted accurately in the midterm election are most likely to report worrying about attempts to overturn election results (68% of skeptical Democratic voters reported this concern).
- Among voters who are not confident votes will be counted accurately in the midterm election, only 18% of voters nationally (37% of Democrats and 11% of Republicans) reported being worried about violence as a result of past or future elections.
3. Voters nationally are more likely to agree with a statement that election results can be trusted when it is made by their chief state election official, rather than a Republican or Democratic party leader. Republicans exhibit lower trust across messengers, even when the messenger is from their own party.
We asked survey respondents whether they agree or disagree with the statement ‘Election results can be trusted because they reflect an accurate counting of valid votes.’ We randomly assigned one of three messengers as the person making the statement: the respondent’s chief state election official, a Republican party leader, or a Democratic party leader.
57% of voters nationally (76% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans) agreed with the statement when it was made by their chief state election official. 52% and 46% of voters agreed with the statement when it was made by a Democratic and Republican party leader, respectively.
While 62% Democrats agree with the statement even when it’s made by a Republican party leader, only 26% of Republicans agree with the statement when it’s made by a Democratic party leader.
Even when the statement is made by a Republican party leader, only 34% of Republicans agreed with the statement (with 36% disagreeing, with the remaining neutral or unsure). This raises the question: If Republicans do not trust their own party leaders to endorse the trustworthiness of election results, who will they trust?
Profile of Election Believers and Election Deniers
We asked voters whether they believe votes were counted accurately in the 2020 election and will be counted accurately in the 2022 midterm election in the following categories: their vote, votes in their local community, votes in their state, and votes across the country.
We operationalize “election believers” as those who are confident that votes in their state and votes across the country will be counted accurately in the 2022 midterm election. Conversely, “election deniers” are operationalized as those who are not confident that votes in their state or across the country will be counted accurately in the midterms.
Election Believer Profile
- Smaller percentage of low-income voters (42%), larger percentage of high-income voters (22%)
- Larger percentage of urban voters (31%), smaller percentage of rural voters (22%)
- Larger percentage of bachelor degree recipients (29%) and post graduate degree recipients (17%)
- Larger percentage of Democrats (59%), smaller percentage of Republicans (27%)
- Split gender breakdown (51% male/ 49% female)
Election Denier Profile
- Larger percentage of low-income voters (52%), smaller percentage of high-income voters (12%)
- Smaller percentage of urban voters (21%), larger percentage of rural voters (33%)
- Smaller percentage of bachelor degree recipients (18%) and post-graduate degree recipients (10%)
- Smaller percentage of Democrats (12%), larger percentage of Republicans (59%)
- More likely to be female (59%) than male (41%)
What the Data Shows
What Does This Mean?
Election officials, party leaders, voter advocates, and other election professionals must navigate a continuously evolving communications landscape to ensure they are reaching voters. While most Americans report they would look to search engines and their state and local election officials for election news and information, there is great variation among demographics on specific trusted sources. Additionally, while a plurality of voters surveyed stated that they would look to state and local election offices, this may not always be realized and does not account for election information received but not sought out through other sources (for example, through social media or from family and friends).
There are particular discrepancies in election information sources by the strength of respondents’ party affiliation and age. Voters 44 and younger are far more likely to look to social media for both information about and the winners of elections.1 Additionally, Republican voters who self-affiliate strongly with the MAGA movement are far more skeptical of national television outlets and more likely to trust partisan figures like Donald Trump or Steve Bannon. Tucker Carlson was the most frequently selected trusted messenger by Republicans who self-affiliated “a great deal” with MAGA, even outpacing their state or local election administrator.
With younger voters and voters on ideological extremes looking to unofficial sources for their election information, it becomes increasingly challenging for authoritative election information to break through.
This survey shows that state and local election administrators are highly trusted sources of election information; it will take immense coordination and intention to put those authoritative messages and messengers in front of voters’ eyes on social media and fringe or extreme media outlets. Looking ahead to 2024, it is an all-hands-on-deck effort to rebuild trust in election administration — or risk losing our democracy as we know it.
This poll was conducted between October 14-15, 2022 among a sample of 2,002 registered voters nationally. The interviews were conducted online and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of registered voters based on gender by age, educational attainment, race, marital status, home ownership, race by educational attainment, 2020 presidential vote, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
This poll was conducted between October 14-20, 2022 among a sample of 805 Colorado voters. The interviews were conducted online and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of Colorado voters based on gender by age, race, marital status, race by educational attainment, and 2020 presidential vote. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
This poll was conducted between October 14-17, 2022 among a sample of 809 Georgia voters. The interviews were conducted online and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of Georgia voters based on gender by age, educational attainment, race, marital status, home ownership, race by educational attainment, and 2020 presidential vote. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
This poll was conducted between October 14-24 2022 among a sample of 501 Wisconsin voters. The interviews were conducted online and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of Wisconsin voters based on gender by age, race, marital status, race by educational attainment, and 2020 presidential vote. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
1 This complements recent research from Pew which found that 50% of 18-29-year-olds in the US say they have some or a lot of trust in the information they get from social media sites. Pew also released a study stating that more Americans, particularly young Americans, are getting their news from TikTok more than other social media platforms.
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