Republican Support For Automatic Voter Registration Is Way Lower Than It Used To Be

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers a speech at Texas Southern University in Houston, Thursday,
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers a speech at Texas Southern University in Houston, Thursday, June 4, 2015. Clinton is calling for an expansion of early voting and pushing back against Republican-led efforts to restrict voting access, laying down a marker on voting rights at the start of her presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

There aren't all that many policy issues where Republican and Democratic voters agree. But for a while there, automatic voter registration was one of them.

Back in March, when Oregon passed a groundbreaking law to automatically register voters using data from the Department of Motor Vehicles, a majority of Americans in both parties said they'd like to see a similar measure implemented in their own state. The bipartisan support on that issue stood in contrast to another reform, same-day registration, that Democrats largely embraced and Republicans generally rejected.

That seems to have changed.

Last Thursday, Hillary Clinton spoke out in favor of a slate of voting reforms, accusing Republicans of trying to suppress turnout and calling for every eligible citizen to be registered at age 18 unless they opt out.

"Voting should not be a partisan issue and there are some good voting reforms that have been endorsed by members of both parties,” said Jonathan Brater of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, one of several voting rights organizations to applaud the speech.

But Clinton's Republican rivals largely lambasted her proposals, suggesting that Clinton's reforms, if implemented, would encourage voter fraud.

And while the public's overall level of support for automatic registration has held steady and remained relatively high, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds that Republicans' willingness to entertain the idea has fallen significantly in the past three months.

Back in March, 53 percent of Republicans supported their state introducing a law like Oregon's. Today, just 38 percent are in favor of automatically registering citizens who are eligible to vote.

The two polls aren't exactly identical. The earlier survey asked about a state-level proposal rather than a national one. It also introduced a further qualifier on how citizens would be registered -- that is, through the DMV, rather than universally.

But there's an even more direct way of measuring the degree to which support for the idea has eroded among Republican voters. While half of those polled were asked simply whether they favored or opposed automatic registration, the rest were first told that the idea had been recently proposed by Clinton. Among that group, GOP support dropped an additional 10 points to just 28 percent.

"The partisan way she’s framed the issue -- by blaming Republicans for all the voting problems -- makes it less likely these changes will actually be implemented should she be elected president," Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote Monday at Slate, calling for Clinton to abandon the idea as a campaign talking point. "Instead, she’s offering red meat to her supporters while alienating the allies she would need to get any reforms enacted... That message will likely alienate moderate Republicans who could be her natural partners for reforms in the future."

While automatic registration may have lost the patina of bipartisan support, it remains relatively popular. Americans as a whole support automatic registration by more than a 10-point margin, regardless of whether Clinton's name is attached to it.

About a quarter of Americans also say they'd like to see their state expand early voting, while 37 percent say their state's policies are about right. Only 9 percent want to see early voting reduced.

More broadly, a majority of the public -- 61 percent -- say that low voter turnout is at least a moderate problem. Many, though, aren't sure it's the government's problem to fix. Forty-six percent of people say the government is already doing enough to make sure that everyone who wants to vote in elections is able to, while 32 percent say it isn't. Democrats say by a 24-point margin that the government doesn't do enough, while Republicans say by a 55-point margin that it does.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 5-7 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.



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