Voter ID Laws: A View from the Public
37 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2015 Last revised: 12 May 2015
Date Written: April 11, 2015
The proliferation of voter identification laws in the American states has spawned a growing literature examining their effects on participation and the factors conditioning their enactment. In this study we move in a different direction, focusing on public opinion toward these laws. Superficially, it appears that voter ID is a valence issue. Public opinion shows broad support, primarily as a way to safeguard the integrity of the ballot box. We explore this supposed consensus on voter ID, probing the rationales and explanations put forth for requiring strict photo ID. Specifically, we draw upon a battery of questions in the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) to determine the degree to which respondents’ attitudes toward voter ID laws are influenced by beliefs about the prevalence of voter fraud, knowledge of existing voter ID laws, and opinions regarding the possible intentions and purposes for photo voter ID laws. Our findings make it evident that although large majorities favor strict photo ID laws, the factors associated with support for these laws vary by partisanship. It is not simply that Republicans strongly favor strict photo ID laws and Democrats are split on the matter. Instead, Republican popular support for strict photo ID laws cuts across virtually all demographic groups, while Democratic support is much more likely to vary as a function of factors such as ideology, education, attention to politics, and racial resentment in the case of white respondents. The partisan division in public opinion over voter ID laws strongly suggests an elite-to-mass message transmission reminiscent of the broader state of polarized party politics.
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