Who Likes to Vote by Mail?

Published date01 July 2021
Date01 July 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(4) 381 –385
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211005684
Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries have
adapted their electoral rules to allow voting by mail (e.g.,
France and Bavaria in March 2020). For the 2020 Presidential
elections, many states in the United States modified their
electoral rules to facilitate voting by mail. The only states
where voters needed an absentee reason to vote by mail were
Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee,
and Texas.1
Much of the existing research has focused on whether or
not voting by mail reforms (as well as other convenience
voting reforms, such as automatic registration, advanced
voting, or internet voting) help increase turnout. In their
extensive review, Gronke et al. (2008) report that earlier
studies found no increase in turnout due to postal voting.
This is mainly because postal voting does not appear to
draw in new citizens or appeal to disempowered segments
of the population (Berinsky et al., 2001; Karp & Banducci,
2000). This conclusion however, remains contested (see
Barreto et al., 2006; Neeley & Richardson, 2001). A recent
study on the subject found that universal vote-by-mail does
not increase turnout (Thompson, 2020). However, still
focused exclusively on aggregate-level data, Bonica et al.
(2020) find that implementation of all-mail voting may
result in a boost in turnout especially among lower-propen-
sity voting groups such as younger voters. A parallel line of
research has studied public support for voting reforms,
including vote-by-mail (e.g., Alvarez et al., 2011; Burden
et al., 2011), also during COVID-19 (Clinton et al., 2020).
The aim of this paper is not to study the impact of mail (or
internet) voting on turnout or support for voting reforms. We
deal with a simple though basic question, which is whether
people would like to vote by mail or not. In a democracy, we
should pay attention to people’s views about various policy
issues but also about how elections should be conducted and
how citizens should cast their ballot. Knowing how much
voting by mail is liked may give us insights about its poten-
tial impact on turnout overall and among subgroups of the
This is the gap we intend to fill with this short paper. In
particular, we examine four contending hypotheses about
who likes to vote by mail: the first concerns age while the
remaining ones are related to political interest, race, and ide-
ology, respectively. We do so using original data we collected
in February 2020 in the United States. Hence, our data col-
lection took place before postal voting became a partisan
issue and as such we are able to study what did people think
before the topic became controversial and highly polarized
(Montellaro, 2020; Wise & Corse, 2020). The survey ques-
tion we rely on asks respondents if they prefer to cast a ballot
at a polling station, over the internet or by mail. By including
both internet and mail as alternative voting options to the
polling station we aim to disentangle convenience (both
alternatives are presumably more convenient than polling
station voting) from novelty (internet is more novel than mail
and polling station voting).2
1005684APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211005684American Politics ResearchPlescia et al.
1University of Vienna, Wien, Austria
2University of Montréal, QC, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Carolina Plescia, Department of Government, University of Vienna,
Kolingasse 14, Wien 1010, Austria.
Email: carolina.plescia@univie.ac.at
Who Likes to Vote by Mail?
Carolina Plescia1, Semra Sevi2, and André Blais2
Interest in voting by mail has increased during the coronavirus as a way to avoid in person contact. In this study, we
conducted a survey in February 2020 in the United States to examine citizen preferences to cast their ballot at a polling
station, over the internet, or by mail. By including simultaneously internet and mail as alternative voting options to the
polling station we aim to disentangle convenience (both alternative options are presumably more convenient) from novelty
(internet is more novel than mail and polling station voting). We find that the person who likes voting by mail the most is an
older White-American with little interest in politics; and the person who likes voting by mail the least is a younger African-
American or Latino with high interest in politics. All in all, the biggest cleavage in citizens’ preferences about how to vote is
generational, not ideological.
voting-by-mail, internet voting, age, ideology, race

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