Are Americans confident about the electoral process?

As some of our readers know, Thad Hall and I (along with our new collaborator, Morgan Llewellyn) have been working lately to better understand American public opinion regarding election reform and voting technology issues.

One of the dimensions that we have been measuring in our public opinion survey work is electoral confidence, regarding which there is currently little rigorous academic research.

To help resolve that problem, and to begin a serious scientific discussion as to whether Americans are confident in the electoral process — and who in the population may lack confidence — we today released a working paper titled “Are Americans Confident Their Ballots Are Counted?” (VTP working paper 49). The paper contains a great deal of sophisticated analysis of the survey question we have been using, “How confident are you that your ballot for president in the (2000 or 2004) election was counted as intended?”

What we find (as summarized in Table 1 in the paper) is that while most voters are confident (approximately 90% after 2000, and virtually the same around the 2004 election), there are roughly one in ten voters who lack confidence. And there are some clear patterns in the data: when we first used this survey question in our surveys following the 2000 election, we found that about 17% of African Americans lacked confidence; but when we got to the 2004 election cycle, the same survey question posed to African American voters showed that nearly 33% lacked confidence.

As we point out in the paper, there is a lot more work in this area to be done, in particular making sure that we keep tracking voter confidence, that we look to some of the important subpopulations (like African Americans) who seem to lack confidence, that we look to non-voters to see how their confidence compares to voters, and that we work to unpack the causal determinants of confidence. There is a lot of interesting analysis in this working paper, but there is a lot more research to be done on this critical evaluation variable.