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American Distrust Of The Voting Process Is Widespread, NPR Poll Finds


A lot of Americans don't trust the electoral system despite massive efforts by government officials to tighten security and boost voter confidence. This is according to a new poll by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist. The poll finds deep partisan divides over what threatens U.S. elections, whether it's foreign interference, disinformation, suppression or fraud, and many blame President Trump for not doing enough. NPR's Pam Fessler covers voting issues for us, and she joins us in studio. Thanks for coming in, Pam.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So let us just acknowledge it is not a good thing for democracy if people don't trust the system. But you do have some good news to start with, right?

FESSLER: Right. The somewhat good news is that about two-thirds of those that we polled do think that the results are going to be accurate. And 6 in 10 think the election will be fair, which is a bit higher than last year.


FESSLER: But that still leaves tens of millions of Americans who are not confident at all whether - that the election is going to be fair and accurate. Listen to some of these numbers that we got. Forty-four percent of Americans say it's likely many votes will not be counted. A third think it's likely that a foreign country will tamper with the votes to change the results. And 40% think the country isn't prepared to prevent such an attack.

And if we have a close election, this lack of trust is going to be critical. One of the main tenets of democracy, as you know, is that losers accept that the results are legitimate. And one state election official told me that his biggest fear this November is that the day after the election, half of the electorate is going to think that they were robbed.

MARTIN: So, I mean, in all those numbers you just laid out, what are some of the things people are most concerned about?

FESSLER: Well, the biggest threat cited most often was misleading information. And that's not surprising because we've heard all these stories about the spread of fake information on social media. And 77% of Americans expect that a foreign country will spread false information about candidates this year, which is especially disturbing because six in 10 of them say it's hard to tell the difference between what's true and what isn't.

And they think it's going to be even more difficult to tell the difference this year than it was in 2016. The second-biggest concern was voter fraud. Some 52% of Americans think there will be some fraud in the election. That was followed by worries about voter suppression and foreign interference.

MARTIN: But that's really interesting - right? - that voter fraud would be such a big concern...


MARTIN: ...Because there's just not evidence to support that.

FESSLER: That's right. This is where we saw some of the sharpest partisan divides. Only 10% of Democrats thought that voter fraud was the biggest threat to U.S. elections, but almost half of Republicans do, people like Joel Martin from California.

JOEL MARTIN: What I'm concerned about is the same thing that happened in 2016 was with a lot of voter fraud happening, as well as a lot of immigrants voting. So that's basically the only thing that I'm worried about.

FESSLER: Yeah. And as you mentioned, there's really no evidence of widespread voting by noncitizens. But President Trump has repeatedly made this claim. And it's a message that's clearly resonating with his base. On the other hand, Democrats say they're most worried about voter suppression, measures like strict ID laws, that they say make it more difficult for people to vote. And that only adds to their belief that the system's unfair.

MARTIN: So who or what do voters hold most responsible for their lack of trust in the system?

FESSLER: Well, most of the people we polled said they trusted their state and local election official to run a fair election. They also gave the intelligence community high grades for doing a lot since 2016 to protect against foreign interference. But the lowest grades, they went to President Trump. Fifty-six percent of Americans say he's done nothing or very little to make sure there's no foreign interference in the election. And a slight majority think he actually encourages such interference. And that includes most Democrats and independents, people like this voter, Dimitri Laddis of New York, who compared Russia's attack on the 2016 elections to Pearl Harbor.

DIMITRI LADDIS: The fact that the commander in chief has done nothing to reassure us that we are safe from such an attack, you know, is very disheartening.

FESSLER: Social media companies also didn't come off looking very good in this poll. Three-quarters of Americans say they don't trust companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to prevent misuse of their platforms to influence the elections.

MARTIN: NPR's Pam Fessler with the findings of a new poll out this morning from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist. Pam, thank you.

FESSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler
Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.