Massachusetts Voters Overwhelmingly Plan on Taking Advantage of Early Voting According to New UMass Amherst / WCVB Poll

Survey shows 65% plan to vote early or absentee; 30% had already cast ballots by Oct. 21, while 79% express concern about the possibility of violence associated with the election
Jesse Rhodes
Jesse Rhodes
Ray La Raja
Ray La Raja
Tatishe Nteta
Tatishe Nteta

AMHERST, Mass. – Nearly two weeks ahead of Election Day, nearly one-third of likely Massachusetts voters have already cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election according to a new University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB poll released today. While 30% of all those surveyed had already submitted their vote, 41% of all respondents plan on taking advantage of the Commonwealth’s vote by mail system to submit their ballot. Overall, 65% of all respondents planned on voting early, while 63% of Republicans plan to heed recent calls by prominent members of the GOP to vote in-person on Election Day.

“The pandemic is accelerating a trend throughout the nation that has been underway for some time: the extension of the voting period before Election Day,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll. “In this election cycle – and almost certainly as a means to maintain social distancing during the pandemic – fully 62% of those who wanted to vote by mail or absentee ballot have already cast their vote. We’re likely to see Massachusetts voters, like voters throughout the nation, continue to prefer the ability to vote before Election Day, using whatever methods are available. This is a real and durable change in the way people vote.”

“There is a large gender gap in who uses mail to vote,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “Almost half of women say they will vote this way, while one-in-three men say they will, but the biggest difference is between Democrats and Republicans. The poll shows how a basic issue over how to vote has become so partisan – 55% of Democrats say they are voting by mail while only 16% of Republicans say they will.”

In the top ballot races, the poll found unsurprising results in the solidly blue Bay State. Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden leads incumbent Republican President Donald Trump 64-29 among the poll’s respondents, while incumbent Democratic Sen. Ed Markey leads his Republican challenger Kevin O’Connor, 65-26.

“Massachusetts Republicans and those who lean Republican – 10% of voters – are not abandoning Trump, even with a Republican governor who opposes him. Nine out of 10 support the president,” La Raja says.

The poll also surveyed voters about their views on the two statewide ballot measures in this year’s election. While an overwhelming percentage say they have voted or plan to vote “yes” on Question 1 – commonly referred to as “right-to-repair” – Question 2 may come down to the wire, as 48% support ranked choice voting while 43% oppose, with 9% unsure.

“For months the state’s residents have been bombarded by ads on Question 1,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll. “With a week to go until Election Day, it looks as if the “Yes on 1” effort has won the day with a whopping 75% of the state’s likely voters indicating that they support expanding access to vehicle repair data.”

Voters were also asked about the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and 63% of respondents objected to the Senate voting to confirm her to a seat on the highest court of the land, while 37% support her receiving the lifetime appointment. Asked about such lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justices, 60% of the voters polled support the establishment of term limits on the jurists, while only 20% oppose such limits.

The responses were much closer when asked about growing calls for a possible expansion of the court. “While momentum is building nationally for Joe Biden to ‘pack the courts’ if he emerges victorious on Election Day, the state’s likely voters show tepid support for such a move, with 41% of the likely voters expressing a desire to increase the number of justices on the nation’s highest court,” Nteta says. Thirty-five percent of respondents oppose expanding the court.

The COVID-19 crisis, economy and health care were the central issues on voters’ minds heading into the election, listed by respondents as the three most important among the 10-issue slate from which they were presented.

“In 2020, ‘it’s the Covid-19 crisis, stupid’ as concerns about the pandemic have overtaken the economy as the most important issue for the state’s likely voters in the presidential election,” Nteta says.

The electorate exhibited significant concern over potential violence stemming from the election, with four out of five respondents (79%) saying they are very or somewhat concerned about violence associated with the presidential contest. Only 4% of respondents expressed total confidence in the American tradition of the peaceful transition of power by replying that they were not concerned at all about the possibility of violence. Voters hold significant fears about the process of the election, as well, with 44% of those polled saying they are not too confident or not confident at all that votes will be counted as intended in November.

When asked about their “central fear” about the presidential election, an equal percentage of respondents (22% each) listed attempted voter suppression by the opposing party and fraud or abuse in counting mail-in ballots. The influence of fake news, disinformation and “deep fakes” (17%), the prospect of the losing candidate contesting the results (16%) and the possibility of riots, looting and violence by the losing candidate’s supporters (16%) rounded out the voters’ remaining primary concerns. Only 6% of those polled cited manipulation of election results by a foreign government as their central concern.

Finally, the poll asked voters about their views on the Electoral College, and 59% replied they would support an amendment to the Constitution to provide that the winner of the national popular vote wins the presidential election, while only 30% support the current system of deciding the country’s commander-in-chief via state-by-state electoral votes.

“In this period of anxiety, Massachusetts registered voters are willing to consider major reforms to our democracy,” Rhodes says. “Reflecting concerns about partisan appointments to the Supreme Court, 60% support establishing term limits for justices serving on the court. And, recognizing that the operation of the Electoral College can lead to a divergence between the winner of the popular vote and election to the presidency, Massachusetts registered voters support amending the Constitution so that the candidate who receives the most votes is elected.”

Methodology

This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 713 registered voters in Massachusetts was conducted Oct. 14-21 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 725 registered voter respondents who were weighted to the sampling frame from the 2018 Current Population Survey (CPS) of Massachusetts registered voters using propensity scores. The 725 cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, and years of education. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.

The weights were then post-stratified on 2016 Presidential vote choice, and a four-way stratification of gender, age (4-categories), race (4-categories), and education (4-categories). Finally, the sample was restricted to only those who are likely voters to produce a final dataset of 713 likely voter respondents and weights were re-centered among these 713 respondents to produce the final weight.

The margin of error within this poll is 4.5%.

Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll