Do Americans support voting by mail to limit the spread of coronavirus infections?

The latest reports about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that virus cases in the U.S. continue to increase in many states. As the 2020 election nears, the failure to adequately contain the virus has led to growing concerns about the safety of voting in person both for voters and for poll workers.The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that in-person voting requires standing in line close to each other, handling ballots, and using touch screens, which all make for “a potentially toxic stew of community transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Only five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—conducted their elections using a vote-by-mail system before the pandemic struck, according to Newsweek. And while all states provide an option for voting by mail in certain circumstances, 16 require voters to provide a reason before they can qualify for an absentee ballot (although restrictions in some states have been relaxed in recent months in response to the epidemic).

In early April, we asked Americans “how much do you support or oppose ensuring that all U.S. citizens can vote by mail in the November 2020 election to limit the spread of coronavirus infections?” Nationally, 78% of Americans said they support voting by mail. By combining our survey data with geographic and demographic information from the U.S. Census Bureau we were able to estimate and map the geographic variation in support for voting by mail across all 50 states. We find that in 46 states, more than three quarters of the public supports voting by mail in the upcoming election. Kentucky (73%), and Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi (each 74%), had the lowest levels of support, while states that already have voting by mail had some of the highest levels of support (Hawaii, 82%; Colorado, 78%; and Washington, Oregon, and California, each 80%).

Estimated percentage of Americans in each state who “somewhat” or “strongly support” ensuring that all U.S. citizens can vote by mail in the November 2020 election to limit the spread of coronavirus infections. Opinion estimates are shown for the five states that already conducted their elections using a vote-by-mail system before COVID-19. State-level estimates (margin of error +/-8) were generated using a multilevel model based on age, gender, education, race, and state (see Howe et al., 2015). The survey was conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication ( and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication ( and fielded by Climate Nexus Polling ( Interview dates: April 3 -7, 2020. Average survey margin of error +/- 2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.


There is less geographic variation in public support for voting by mail in November 2020 than one might expect, given President Trump’s attacks on voting by mail. In fact, the range in levels of support for mail-in balloting was no more than 9 percentage points across all 50 states.

The option to vote by mail is particularly important for those people most vulnerable to COVID-19, including seniors and people of color, as well as people with disabilities or unstable housing, younger voters, new Americans, and front-line poll workers. Although voting-by-mail is not new in most states, efforts to expand at-home voting options will require significant changes by state election officials. Moreover, since voting by mail may be a new experience for many voters, state officials will also need to implement robust public education efforts.

The right to vote is one of the core values and functions of democracy. Ensuring safe voting during a pandemic is a major challenge. However, a large majority of Americans – in all 50 states – support one important way to make voting safer and easier – voting by mail.