Ballot Casting

Tracking How Americans Plan to Vote

Updated October 23, 2020

In an already unprecedented year, the way Americans choose to cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election may be yet another break with convention. Current trends from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape survey indicate a major increase in the share of U.S. voters planning to vote before Election Day. Like all survey estimates, these numbers are subject to a degree of error. This is an even higher possibility in this case because we are asking respondents about future plans — plans which might change. As such, the estimates should be interpreted with these uncertainties in mind. We will update this page regularly with the latest data on this issue.

How Do Americans Plan to Cast Their Ballots?

Voting method among registered voters who intend to vote or have already voted

Source: Democracy Fund and UCLA Nationscape Survey. Data collected between August 27 and October 21, 2020. See question wording and additional notes in the Appendix at the bottom of the page.

Among Americans who report that they are registered to vote and that they intend to vote, less than 40 percent say that they intend to vote in-person on Election Day. About four in ten say that they are likely to vote by mail while about two in ten say they will vote in-person early. Compared to 2016 — when 21 percent of Americans voted by mail and 19 percent voted in-person before election day — this represents a notable rise in the share of voters who are considering alternatives to voting in-person on Election Day.

How Do Americans Plan to Cast Their Ballots Across States?

Voting method among registered voters who intend to vote or have already voted

Source: Democracy Fund and UCLA Nationscape Survey. Data collected between August 27 and October 21, 2020. See question wording and additional notes in the Appendix at the bottom of the page.

There are dramatic differences across states. In states like California and Arizona, majorities currently report that they intend to vote by mail. By contrast, majorities of Pennsylvanians still report that they intend to vote in-person on Election Day. Estimates for additional states may be added as more data becomes available.

How Do Trump and Biden Supporters Plan to Cast Their Ballots?

Voting method among registered voters who intend to vote or have already voted

Source: Democracy Fund and UCLA Nationscape Survey. Data collected between August 27 and October 21, 2020. See question wording and additional notes in the Appendix at the bottom of the page.

Supporters of Donald Trump and Joe Biden say that they intend to cast their ballot in different ways. The majority of registered voters who prefer Joe Biden say that they will vote by mail, while roughly half of those who prefer Donald Trump or lean towards him say they will vote in-person on Election Day.

The divide reflects an unusual partisan division that was not nearly as large in 2016. According to the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, Trump voters were only six percentage points more likely than Clinton voters to say that they voted in-person on Election Day. Clinton voters were only slightly more likely to report that they voted in-person before Election Day and by mail — two and four percentage points, respectively.

These political differences create some degree of uncertainty heading into Election Day. On the one hand, if mail ballots take longer to count, then the tallied results on the night of November 3 might differ substantially from the final tallied results, creating some momentary ambiguity if a state race is close. On the other hand, it is possible that we may see a resurgence in the number of COVID-19 cases by November. It seems entirely plausible that such an event could affect who would want to vote in-person on Election Day and who would be able to do so.


Appendix

  • Question Wording and Categorization

    All figures above are based on respondents' answers to the following questions. Those who have not voted yet were asked the following question:

    In the general election this November, how are you likely to cast your ballot?

    1. Vote before Election Day in-person
    2. Vote on Election Day in-person
    3. Receive my ballot through the mail and return it by mail
    4. Receive my ballot through the mail and return it in-person
    5. Other
    6. I will not vote in this election


    Those who reported that they already voted were asked a past tense version of the question.

    Among those who reported that they were registered to vote, respondents who had not yet voted were sorted into categories displayed in the figures above on the basis of their answers. Those responding (1) were classified as in-person, early; (2) in-person, Election Day; (3) and (4) vote by mail; and (5) other. Those responding (6) were dropped.

    Similarly, among registered individuals who said they had already voted, those responding (1) were classified as in-person, early; (3) and (4) vote by mail; and (5) other. Because those replying (2) gave a logically inconsistent answer — they could not have voted on Election Day before Election Day — they were also classified as “other.” Those responding (6) were dropped.

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