Hidden Common Ground: New Research on Voting

Most Americans across party lines believe the nation can make voting simple, convenient, and hassle-free while also preventing fraud, a new Public Agenda/USA TODAY survey found. This result confirms research done by the National Issues Forums Institute and the Kettering Foundation with people from across the country.

The Public Agenda survey, conducted as part of the Hidden Common Ground project, found that 23 percent of Republicans think preventing voter fraud was a higher priority and 25 percent of Democrats say making voting easier was more important. However, large majorities of both parties, as well as Independents, believe it is possible to do both. This finding runs counter to the narrative, often heard in the media, that Americans are so deeply divided they cannot agree on this or other issues.

NIF has just released a new issue advisory, Elections: How Should We Encourage and Safeguard Voting?, which is available as a free PDF download. In research conducted for the advisory, voters from across the political spectrum not only were able to discuss the issue civilly and respectfully, but also found that they agreed on many aspects of the problem.

“Americans of all partisan persuasions are united in rejecting the zero-sum framing that political elites are conveying about elections, as if convenient voter access and secure, accurate elections were mutually exclusive,” state Public Agenda’s David Schleifer, Will Friedman, and Erin McNally in their report on the new survey.

The full Public Agenda survey can be found here; it is also being fully covered by USA TODAY in their print and digital editions.

The survey also looked into Americans’ thinking about how well our democracy is working and what it would take to make it healthier, an issue that will be addressed in a forthcoming update to the NIF issue guide A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want? 

The Public Agenda survey found that only 14 percent of Americans think our democracy is functioning well, 36 percent feel it is in crisis, and 50 percent say that it is facing serious challenges. They feel political divisiveness is a leading cause of our problems.

According to the Public Agenda report, “Among those who think our democracy needs systemic change, not just different leaders, there is substantial agreement across political affiliations on two major reasons why: so that our political system can become less divisive; and so that ordinary people can have more of a voice.”

Two-thirds of Americans, across party lines, say it is very important that political leaders put aside destructive partisan divisiveness, and 58 percent say that ordinary Americans should do so as well.

This is echoed in a comment made by a participant in one of the groups convened for research prior to the House Divided update: “If the democracy is broken, then we’re broken. . . . We made this problem and we need to fix it.”