A year-long study of Oregonian voter attitudes demonstrates that, following an especially divisive election, there is an ongoing need to build confidence and trust in Oregon’s election system.
The survey, conducted prior to the November 2020 election and immediately after, examined how much voters knew about the vote by mail system, how the system could be improved, and how much confidence they have in Oregon’s and the nation’s election system.
The Oregon Secretary of State’s Elections Division commissioned and paid for the survey in 2020, by Reed College’s nonpartisan Early Voting Information Center (EVIC), in partnership with the Northwest Priorities Project.
“The survey offers both cause for concern and optimism in Oregonians’ confidence of our state’s election system,” Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said. “We have a lot of work to do to rebuild confidence following a deeply divisive election cycle. However, I am heartened to know that there are tools at our disposal to do just that. Oregonians of every political affiliation should have confidence in the systems that they use to elect their political leaders.”
There is a strong split between Oregon Democrats and Republicans when it comes to confidence in national elections, but that split also exists for Oregon’s election system.
Perceptions of election fraud and vote suppression both show strong partisan differences, but partisan differences on the potential for fraud are greater than on potential voter suppression. There is also a partisan difference in Oregonians’ attitudes about the potential for voter fraud and to a lesser extent on voter suppression tactics or policies that discourage voting.
Perceptions of the voting system and vote by mail fluctuated throughout the year for voters, with Republican confidence in the system falling after November.
Independents and Republicans were more likely than Democrats to think that extending vote-by-mail nationwide would cause more voters to mismark ballots.
The survey also offered some takeaways for how to reach voters of all ages from across the state. The nonpartisan voter’s pamphlet statement remains a trusted source of information. In addition, the survey provides some direction about where individual voters consume their information. Younger respondents are 50% more likely to get news from social media than older respondents (91% to 59%) while older respondents are almost twice as likely to watch television news (81% to 44%).
Dr. Paul Gronke, the director of the EVIC and a professor of political science, said Oregon’s vote by mail system was resilient in the face of historically high turnout and the challenges of a pandemic, but as this year shows, maintaining trust and confidence in the elections system and in government more generally in an ongoing task.
"EVIC and our partners at Reed College are proud to partner with the Secretary of State to promote a safe, secure, and equitable election system, and to be able to use this partnership to introduce our students to the values of public service and civic engagement,” Gronke said.
According to a release from EVIC, the center searches for common sense, nonpartisan solutions to identified problems in election administration that are backed by solid empirical evidence and tailored to the conditions of the time and jurisdiction, and that may or may not include the administration of early voting.