2020: The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime?

Most Americans, many still sheltering at home and inundated with news broadcasts, podcasts, tweets and the like have seen and heard the same refrain for weeks…”This is the most important election of our lifetime”…”Voter turnout will be record-setting this year”…”Plan to vote early to ensure your voice is heard”…on and on it goes.

There is no question the 2020 election season has been full of interest, intrigue and for many pure exhaustion, but are these themes we’ve been hearing more hype than reality? Is motivation, interest and the belief in the power of your vote at a fever pitch this year?

The ENGINE Insights’ CARAVAN Survey Team set out to find out exactly that as early voting is in full steam across the United States. As of this writing, over 75 million ballots have been cast either in-person or via mail, with much attention, anxiety and growing anticipation day after day. Indeed, most likely voters have been paying close attention, with 82% agreeing (42% strongly) to feeling inspired in seeing long lines waiting to vote in states that have started early voting.

Our intention with this survey was to go beyond the standard horserace type polling and dig deeper into what is on the minds of likely voters as they cast their ballots and observe their fellow citizens around the country doing the same. How motivated are they? What issues are they concerned about? What potential voting impacts worry them? Just how important is this year’s vote?

Our findings show this election is undeniably being viewed with critical importance to the American public. For example, among likely voters, a whopping 88% report being highly motivated about voting this year, 64% agreeing with this statement strongly. Similarly, 85% agree this election is the most important of their lifetime (51% strongly agree). Further, in another sign of just how invested voters are, 81% agree (40% strongly) they are more interested in down ballot elections (such as candidates for Senate and House of Representatives) than usual this year.

Perhaps it is not surprising that even in this age of bitter partisan divide, these previous measures are ones that both Democrats and Republicans agree on at nearly the same level, albeit likely coming from different perspectives. On the other hand, when looking at several prominent concerns, there is a departure based on what side of the aisle the voter is on.

Overall concern on these key measures is strong:

  • The impact the results of the election will have on the U.S. economy – 88% concerned (51% very concerned)
  • A new stimulus package for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – 83% concerned (50% very concerned)
  • A peaceful resolution to the result of the presidential election, regardless of who wins – 83% concerned (47% very concerned)
  • The impact the results of the election will have on race relations in the U.S. – 77% concerned (44% very concerned)

But when we compare degree of concern by party ID the picture changes, and in some cases quite notably:

  • Republicans are more strongly concerned about the impact the results of the election will have on the U.S. economy (57% very concerned) compared to Democrats (49% very concerned).
  • Democrats, on the other hand, show a greater degree of concern over these issues compared to Republicans: a new stimulus package for those affected by the COVID-
  • 19 pandemic (61% very concerned vs. 42%), a peaceful resolution to the election (54% vs. 42%), as well as the impact of the election on race relations (58% vs. 36%).

Finally, much has been made of a host of potential issues with this year’s vote, perhaps to an exaggerated level but in other ways quite understandable. One thing many voters are still influenced by from 2016 is the “October Surprise”, the unexpected bombshell that can impact an election and change the course of history. When you factor that in and couple it with the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, voters in 2020 are approaching their vote with a blend of seriousness, caution, anxiety and probably a dose of some irrational fear as well. Our likely voters feel these issues might have an impact on the Presidential election, some of which might bring us back to 2016:

  • Misinformation through social media – 52%
  • Misinformation through television media – 48%
  • Mail-in voter fraud – 45%
  • The impact of COVID-19 on voter turnout – 44%
  • Postal service delays resulting in late arriving mail-in ballots – 38%
  • Foreign countries attempting to influence the election – 34%
  • Voter intimidation at polling locations – 32%
  • Long waiting times at polling locations suppressing turnout – 29%
  • In-person voter fraud – 26%
  • Limited availability of drop boxes for mail-in ballots – 23%

Again, when we view this along party lines some clear differences emerge. For example, Republicans are more worried about mail-in voter fraud (58%) compared to Democrats (32%), as well as misinformation through television media (53% vs. 45%). Alternatively, Democrats are more worried than Republicans about several other matters, such as: the impact of COVID-19 on turnout (53% vs. 38%), foreign countries attempting to influence the election (44% vs. 27%), voter intimidation (42% vs. 25%), long waiting times at polling locations (41% vs. 22%), and limited availability of drop boxes for mail-in ballots (32% vs. 17%).

When the dust settles late in the night on November 3rd or the early hours of the 4th, we may find that most of these concerns about voting were indeed overstated or downright ridiculous, and we will know right away that the election was free and fair and the outcome not in doubt. On the other hand, we may find ourselves in a state of limbo for weeks as we did in the year 2000, with legal battles that end up in the highest court of the land.

In the meantime, one thing is for certain as we near the final stages of the 2020 election season: your vote matters, do your part to be properly informed and to help your fellow citizens be properly informed, because this election is indeed the most important of our lifetime. Take nothing for granted.

Written by Richard Tomasco, Vice President at ENGINE Insights.