Most Americans, including Democrats, think voter fraud is a real problem and don’t mind voter ID laws as a solution, according to academic research that suggests Republicans are winning the argument over voting rights and suppression.
A study published in the Social Science Quarterly this month said that while the two parties’ leaders have widely divergent opinions, most voters tend to side with Republicans in seeing fraud as a significant problem. Americans also generally discount Democrats’ fears that requiring voters to show identification at the polls will keep many legitimate voters from casting ballots.
Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who co-authored the study, said he detected a cynicism about American politics that feeds into fears among voters of all persuasions that elections are tainted by fraud.
“Average Democrats have bought the Republican argument,” said Mr. Miller. “[Bernard] Sanders and [Donald] Trump really showed the effectiveness of tapping into all that negativity.”
His study surveyed roughly 1,000 voters and found that even groups Democrats say are most harmed by showing ID at the polls, such as minorities and the elderly, support voter ID laws.
“Thinking that voter fraud is a big problem really just fits with the negative and cynical attitude that Americans have about the political process. We think politics is corrupt. We think elections are rigged,” Mr. Miller said.
Republican voters view voter ID as a moral issue — a question of right or wrong. Democrats, meanwhile, “were victims of their own ignorance,” the study concluded, not realizing that favoring voter ID could hurt their party’s goals.
The findings are being released as President Trump creates a commission to study voter integrity. Led by Vice President Mike Pence with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice chairman, the committee is charged with studying both voter fraud and barriers to voting.
Voting rights groups have been critical of the commission, and some activists even demand that Democrats boycott the panel.
Democrats in Washington argue that voter ID laws are thinly veiled efforts to keep poor and minority voters, who are more likely to vote Democratic, from the polls. Those demographics are less likely to possess IDs, according to some studies.
Mr. Trump, though, says voter fraud is epidemic in U.S. elections, and Republican lawmakers in states are searching for ways to limit the opportunities for bogus voting, particularly among noncitizens.
Mr. Miller’s online survey of roughly 1,000 voters was representative of the U.S. population, but the responses were collected in October 2014.
He said that only when voters are convinced that fraud is not a problem at all are Americans open to Democrats’ fears of voter suppression stemming from voter ID laws.
Jim Granato, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said he would have wanted to see multiple data samples to draw the conclusions reached by Mr. Miller and co-author Pamela Johnston Conover, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“As a consequence, I am not sure the results are that robust and I am not comfortable with it as a baseline for predications on change,”Mr. Granato said. “The results point to an interesting finding. But, that does not mean it is generalizable.”
He also said people’s views could have changed since 2014, particularly with Mr. Trump and Democrats clashing over the issue now. He said the way to tell would be to survey the same voters over time.
Jon Bond, a political science professor at Texas A&M University, said Mr. Miller’s interpretation of the playing field on voter fraud and ID is sound, but he doubted it would move the policy debate in Washington or state houses.
“I am not surprised that partisan motivated reasoning does not account for opinions about voter fraud or vote suppression,” he said. “As an aside, I think Republicans have been highly effective at neutralizing Democrats on how to frame issues for decades.”
Those who support voter ID laws are touting the study’s findings, though.
“This study matters because the organized left knows their anti-ID efforts have practically failed on all fronts,” said Logan Churchwell, the communications director for the Public Interest Legal Foundation.