Strict Voter ID Laws Are Popular Among Majorities in Both Parties, Racial and Ethnic Groups

by Josh Hochberg (Class of 2022)

Over the past two decades, voter ID laws have developed from an insipid topic of interest only to policy wonks and local government enthusiasts into one of the most hot-button issues in American politics. Indeed, a recent NPR article declared that “Voting And Elections Divide Republicans And Democrats Like Little Else.” Joe Biden suggested that voter ID laws are “evidence of lingering racism;” Hillary Clinton opposed the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because of his ruling in a voter ID case as a circuit judge; Elizabeth Warren called voter ID laws “racist.”

Currently, 36 states have a voter ID law on the books, although the stringency of the requirement varies. Six states (Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Wisconsin) have “strict” voter ID laws, which typically require that voters show a government issued photo ID when they vote. These strict voter ID laws are hyperpartisan and contentious, with political scientist Benjamin Highton noting that “it is readily apparent that the Republican Party’s control of state government appears to be a necessary condition for the adoption of a strict photo ID law.”

To date, many scholars and political scientists have surveyed the public to gauge their support for voter ID laws in general. However, few have both asked about strict voter ID laws and allowed respondents to take a neutral position. In 2012, for example, political scientists Paul Brewer and David Wilson found that 81% of Americans support strict voter ID laws, but their survey forced respondents to take a position and had less than 200 respondents. Likewise, a 2018 Pew survey reported that 76% of Americans support strict voter ID laws, but excluded those who declined to take a position. A 2016 Gallup Poll is one of the only to display the opinion of all respondents, showing that 80% of Americans support voter ID laws. However, the Gallup Poll asked about photo ID requirements in general and not about government-issued photo ID. Thus, we know little about the spectrum of public opinion on strict voter ID laws.

This article draws upon data obtained from the American National Election Studies (ANES) 2020 Pre-Election Data to fill this gap. The ANES survey was conducted between August and November 2020 with a mixed-mode design that included self-administered surveys, phone interviews, and video interviews. The study has 8,280 respondents and post-stratification weights were applied to ensure the sample is nationally representative. In addition to various demographic questions such as party and race, respondents were asked, “Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose requiring all people to show a government issued photo ID when they vote?”

The majority of Americans support strict voter ID laws, with 68% supporting, 19% opposing, and the remaining 13% being neutral. However, support for strict voter ID laws, support parties. 90% of Republicans support them, compared to 60% of Independents and 50% of Democrats. The differences in support between the parties are statistically significant. Conversely, 23% of Democrats, 30% of Independents, and only 3% of Republican oppose them.

In addition to being charged by partisanship, voter ID laws are racially charged. To date, the social science literature on the disparate racial impact of voter ID laws is mixed. Some estimate they suppress Black turnout by eight percentage points and Hispanic turnout by nine percentage-points, others find they have no disparate impact, and still others highlight the methodological constraints that inhibit researchers’ abilities to detect a possible disparate impact.

Nevertheless, the possibility of a disparate impact remains, with survey research repeatedly finding that white voters are significantly more likely to possess a valid ID than voters of color. Additionally, empirical scholarship has identified the role of race and their importance in the enactment of voter ID laws: Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien found that states in which minority turnout recently increased were more likely to enact voter ID laws, and Seth McKee’s analysis revealed that the size of a district’s black population positively influences the probability a Republican legislator votes in favor of a voter ID law.

Despite the racial motivations often underpinning the enactment of voter ID laws, clear majorities across racial and ethnic groups support them. 70% of White respondents support strict voter ID laws, as do 66% of Hispanic respondents, 56% of Black respondents, and 61% of those who did not self-identify as White, Hispanic, or Black. This “Other” group includes those who identified as Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Alaska Native, or multiple races. The differences in levels of support between groups are all statistically significant. In no group did more than 25% of respondents oppose a strict voter ID law; opposition ranged from 25% of Black respondents to 10% of Hispanic respondents.

Although White respondents are more supportive of strict voter ID laws than Hispanic and Black respondents in general, the inverse is true when looking only at Democrats. As the figure below shows, while only 44% of White Democrats support them, 59% of Hispanic Democrats and 55% of Black Democrats support strict voter ID laws. The difference in support between Black and White Democrats, as well as the difference between Hispanic and White Democrats, are statistically significant.

The linear regression model below shows that controlling for age, education, race, and news interest, a respondent’s party has a significant impact on their support for strict voter ID laws. Excluding those who identify as Independent, I find that Republicans are 46 points more likely to support them than Democrats. Race, too, has a significant impact on support. Controlling for party identification and other variables, Black and Hispanic respondents were more than five points more likely to support the laws than White respondents.

Other variables in addition to party and race have significant effects on support for strict voter ID laws. A one-unit increase in one’s level of education, for instance, is associated with a one-point decrease in support for strict voter ID laws. Likewise, those who are highly interested in public affairs and politics are three points less likely to support the laws than their less-interested counterparts. Age, too, is statistically significant, with a one-unit increase in age associated with a 0.123-point increase in support. Though this difference is small, it is still statistically significant. To illustrate, the regression model expects a forty-year-old to be 12 points more supportive of strict voter ID laws than a thirty-year-old.

The debate over voter ID laws will surely continue to rage in statehouses and courtrooms across the country. However, as I’ve shown in this brief article, 7 in 10 Americans support strict voter ID laws; this includes 90% of Republicans, 50% of Democrats, 70% of White respondents, 66% of Hispanic respondents, and 56% of Black respondents. Thus, despite the controversy they attract, strict voter ID laws enjoy widespread public support.

The Tufts Public Opinion Lab (TPOL) is dedicated to studying contemporary controversies in American public opinion using quantitative data analysis.