New poll shows support for voter ID continues

cjarvis@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

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    Read more about the High Point University poll and past studies at its Survey Research Center at

North Carolinians continue to feel strongly that people should have photo identification in order to vote, according to new poll results released Tuesday. But there is much less support for some of the other provisions in the massive elections bill that the governor signed into law last month.

The High Point University survey found nearly three-fourths of those who answered interviewers’ questions approve of the new requirement that voters show government-issued photo identification (72 percent) beginning with the 2016 elections.

Yet a majority of those surveyed – 56 percent – don’t approve of eliminating same-day registration, and 55 percent don’t think shortening early voting from 17 to 10 days is a good idea. Those changes go into effect next year.

Opinions on eliminating straight-party voting, another provision in the new law, are less clearly drawn: 45 percent want it eliminated, while 47 percent disapprove of the change. Similarly, the law allows for raising the limits on campaign contributions from $4,000 to $5,000 each election cycle: Forty-six percent of respondents like the increase and 42 percent don’t.

“You do have a mixed bag,” said High Point assistant professor of political science Martin Kifer. “Voter ID seems to make sense to people when they hear about it.”

A little more than one-fourth of the respondents said they had read or heard a lot about the new law. Another 41 percent said they only knew a little about it, and more than one-third said they hadn’t read or heard much at all about it.

Most of the attention to the legislation as it was debated in the General Assembly this year focused on the photo ID requirement. But the bill, crafted in the rushed final days of the session, has 59 sections, including tossing out provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, ending pre-registration for those younger than 18, ending public financing of judicial elections, and ending the requirement that candidates and committees identify themselves on the air as sponsors of TV ads.

Republican legislators routinely cited the public’s support for photo ID when they debated the bill. Three other polls this year also showed strong support.

Bob Hall, executive director of the campaign finance group Democracy North Carolina, said that was a deliberate strategy.

“I think the legislators used support of the ID to cover and protect themselves as they were sticking in all these other provisions to distract attention,” Hall said. “It was all done very quickly and under the drama around a photo ID proposal.”

Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican from Salisbury and the main sponsor of the bill, said it isn’t surprising that there are mixed opinions because the bill is so complex.

Warren said the final version of the bill returned to the House from the Senate for a consensus vote on the last day of session without time for more floor debate. But, he said, many provisions in the final bill came from other pieces of legislation that were debated and approved.

“I think some of the reaction in the polls is in response to what people hear about the bill through the media rather than actually studying it,” Warren said.

He said there were misconceptions about what it does. For instance, Warren said, the new law shortens the early voting period by seven days but comes close to having the same number of hours.

“When the message is they shortened early voting, that’s a matter of perception and presentation and will start an emotional reaction,” Warren said.

Other polls, similar results

Other polls this year have also shown strong support for photo identification at the polls but less enthusiasm for other changes. “We didn’t find anything we didn’t expect,” Kifer acknowledged.

In March, Elon University’s poll showed 72 percent of North Carolina residents supported photo IDs to vote.

In August, the Civitas Institute conducted a survey that showed 64 percent support photo ID and 34 percent oppose it.

Then last month, the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, in releasing polling results that showed strong support for photo ID, reported only 39 percent of voters supported the elections law and 50 percent oppose it because of the additional provisions added to the bill.

Kifer said the High Point University poll suggests differences between racial groups. It found 56 percent of African-Americans support photo ID, contrasted with 75 percent of white respondents.

The difference is even more stark on the early-voting changes in the new law: Nearly 80 percent of African-Americans disapprove of the changes, while whites are nearly evenly divided. But Kifer cautioned the number of respondents was too low to make firm interpretations of the responses.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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