University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll Finds Widespread Disillusionment and Fear Among Likely Voters as Election Day Nears

More than 60% Very Afraid if their Presidential Candidate Loses
Tatishe Nteta
Tatishe Nteta
Raymond La Raja
Raymond La Raja
Jesse Rhodes
Jesse Rhodes
Alex Theodoridis
Alex Theodoridis

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

AMHERST, Mass. – Fear and disillusionment are widespread among the American electorate as the country nears Election Day, according to a new national survey of likely voters released today by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll. More than 60% of voters say they are “very afraid” if their presidential candidate loses the Nov. 3rd election.

The Republican and Democratic parties both receive failing marks from the public. When asked “how well or poorly” the two major parties represent people like themselves, likely voters respond with disgust. 45% say the GOP represents them very poorly, and 13% somewhat poorly. By contrast, only 18% say the Republican Party represents them very well, and 24% say it represents them somewhat well. The Democratic Party hardly fares better. 38% say the Democratic Party represents them very poorly, and 15% say somewhat poorly; while only 19% say very well and 29% say somewhat well.

“While much attention has been given to the white working class and their increasing support for the Republican Party, we also find that 51% of likely voters making over $100,000 believe that the Republican Party has done a very poor job in representing people like them,” says Tatishe Nteta, director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll and associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst. “The Republican Party may no longer be home to the nation’s wealthiest citizens, a shocking turn of events for a party that has long commanded the loyalty of this group.”

Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll, says “The Republican Party used to be considered the party for the rich. Maybe it still is, but much of the white working class doesn’t think so. Almost 2 in 3 of them say the Republican Party represents them very or somewhat well compared to just 37% for everyone else. Gone is the Democratic party of FDR with only 28% of white working-class voters saying the party represents them,” says La Raja.

Anger and Contesting the Election

Americans are very fearful about the consequences should their preferred candidate lose the election. 61% say they would be very afraid if their candidate loses, and 23% say they would be somewhat afraid. Biden supporters are especially fearful of the prospects of a Biden defeat. 66% of Biden supporters say they would be very afraid if their candidate loses, and 20% say somewhat afraid (compared with 54% and 26%, respectively, for Trump voters).

Pointing to the extreme nature of partisan polarization in our politics today, many voters indicate they will be angry if their candidate loses the election. When asked how angry they will be if their presidential candidate loses, 53% say very angry and 22% somewhat angry. 66% of Biden supporters say they will be very angry, and 16% somewhat angry, if the Democratic candidate loses the election. If Republican Trump loses, 39% of Trump supporters say they will be very angry and 29% somewhat angry.

Nteta says, “Over 66% of Democrats will be very angry if Vice President Joe Biden loses the election to President Trump, far outdistancing the 39% of Republicans who said that they will feel a similar level of anger if President Trump loses on November 3rd. Decades of research have shown that anger leads citizens to show up in droves on Election Day and the anger gap between supporters of Biden and Trump does not bode well for Trump’s chances on Election Night.”

The Poll reveals that many Americans perceive that political and social elites treat them with disdain. The news media is viewed as particularly disrespectful to ordinary Americans: 32% of Americans strongly agree with the statement “the news media looks down on people like me,” and 16% somewhat agree.

“In this populist moment in our history, we asked voters whether they think elites look down on people like them. The news media comes off as among the most disdainful or snobbiest in their view. 48% of voters believe the news media looks down on them,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll.

Nteta observes, “For four years, President Donald Trump has waged war on the mainstream media labeling them “fake news.” It is no surprise that almost 8 in 10 Republicans, Trump voters, and conservatives believe that the news media looks down on people like them.”

Many likely voters believe that their preferred candidate should contest the election results if their candidate is not winning on election night. If Biden does not have the most votes in the Electoral College on election night, 53% of his supporters say he should contest the results, while 16% say he should concede (31% suggested they didn’t know). 44% of Trump’s supporters say he should contest the results if he doesn’t have the most Electoral College votes on election night, 18% say he should concede, and 38% don’t know.

Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll says, "Neither Democrats nor Republicans want their candidate to concede the election if they are behind on election night. These attitudes will likely propel both Biden and Trump to contest the election results no matter what happens on Tuesday, November 3. We are likely in for an extended period of contestation over the election results."

Serious Concerns About Violence

An overwhelming majority of likely voters is concerned about the possibility of election-related violence. When asked about the possibility of violence related to the 2020 presidential election, 44% are very concerned, 36% somewhat concerned, 12% not very concerned, 5% not concerned at all, and 3% don’t know.

Nteta observes, “The fear is real. Americans of all genders, ages, incomes, races, parties, and educational experiences express high levels of concern that violence will mark the aftermath of Tuesday’s presidential election.”

Likely voters perceived that particular groups were more likely to commit violence if their preferred candidate lost than others. 29% of those surveyed perceived that white supremacists were most likely to commit violence, followed by Antifa (21%) and the Black Lives Matter movement (15%). Only small proportions of those polled believed the Proud Boys (9%), Democrats (9%), militias (8%), Republicans (7%), or anarchists (3%) were most likely to commit violence.

“This reflects the reality that, as the Department of Homeland Security has indicated, white supremacist groups are indeed a primary domestic terrorist threat today,” says Rhodes.

Given the electoral uncertainty and prospects for violence, likely voters report taking a range of actions to protect themselves in advance of election day. 44% indicate they intend to avoid crowded places on election day, while 26% suggest they will be staying home. More troublingly, a significant share of Americans are arming themselves in advance of election day, with 16% reporting they have purchased a gun, and 14% reporting they bought ammunition. 11% suggest they will be meeting with friends or allies for safety, while 4% indicate they may be taking a vacation or extended stay away from home.

“These poll results capture the fear and loathing that characterize American politics during this time of hyper-polarization. What we see going into Tuesday is a populace so divided and so tense as to make it a veritable tinderbox,” says Alex Theodoridis, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll.

“Our survey does not predict a particularly close election, which I hope reduces the chance that the results will ignite widespread political violence. It is clear, though, that the United States is in need of substantial political healing if our democracy is to regain its health going forward.”

Methodology

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll of 1,500 likely voters was conducted Oct. 20-27, 2020 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 1,792 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 1,667 registered voters and then subset on 1,500 likely voters to produce the final dataset. The likely voter subset included an oversample of 500 white voters with lower educational attainment.

The full set of survey starts were matched to a sampling frame of registered voters on gender, age, race, and education. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the registered voter portion of the 2016 Current Population Survey sample with selection within strata by weighted sampling with replacements (using the person weights on the public use file).

The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched 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 weights were subset on likely voters and trimmed and re-centered to produce the final weight. The margin of error within this poll is 3.1%.

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