Amid overwhelming evidence illegal voting is rare, not nearly pervasive enough to sway elections and persistent false claims to the contrary, fewer Bay Area voters identify it as a threat to American democracy than their statewide peers in a new poll.
The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies Poll asked registered voters a number of questions late last month about the state of U.S. democracy, including the potential dangers it faces, ahead of Tuesday's midterm elections.
Asked whether "people voting or casting ballots illegally in elections" poses a major threat, a minor threat or no threat at all to American democracy, 48% of registered Bay Area voters identified voter fraud as no threat. That was at least nine percentage points higher than every region of the state, including Los Angeles, where 34% of voters said the same.
Forty-eight percent of registered voters in the Bay Area's nine counties identified illegal voting as a threat of some kind to democracy in the U.S. Twenty-nine percent said it was a major threat, while 19% said it was a minor one.
"Some vague feelings that voter fraud is a problem are not unusual," Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University who specializes in voting behavior and urban politics, told The Examiner in an interview on Monday.
"When asked this, this is one of those questions where they're like, 'I don't know. It sounds like a bad thing. Well, I'll say 'minor threat,' " he added.
Statewide, a higher percentage of registered voters (39%) said that illegal voting was a major threat than those who said it wasn't at all (34%) even though it is, in actuality, far from widespread in American elections.
The Associated Press in July found that the expanded use of ballot drop boxes in the 2020 presidential election led to no associated fraud cases that could have affected the results, seven months after finding just 475 cases of voter fraud out of more than 25 million votes in six battleground states that President Joe Biden won.
Justin Levitt, a voting rights senior policy advisor to the White House, found just 31 out of more than 1 billion ballots between 2000 and 2014 were cast by someone pretending to be another person. A 2020 paper in the peer-reviewed American Political Science Review found that, at most, one in 4,000 voters cast two ballots in the 2012 presidential election. A "measurement error in turnout records" potentially explained "a significant portion, if not all" of the recorded double votes.
Ex // Top Stories
This week's ExTech newsletter is on the raging debate about remote work and why a Microsoft Silicon Valley exec is pushing for a more flexible approach.
State officials are investigating a pair of private flights that flew three dozen South American migrants into California's capital city
The thieves robbed the judge of his wallet, Rolex watch and "other personal effects," the Alameda County Sheriff's Office reported
"Experts agree that voting has never been more secure in this country, and elections officials must be transparent and proactive in communicating to the public about how the elections administration process works," Brittany Stonesifer, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California's democracy and civic engagement program, told The Examiner in a statement on Monday.
Yet as conspiracy theories about election results continues to spread, perceptions of illegal voting also persist.
Former President Donald Trump has falsely and repeatedly claimed that voter fraud was widespread in the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections, the latter of which was echoed by rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in an effort to halt the certification of Biden's electoral college victory.
False voter fraud claims have become widespread within Trump's party. Ninety percent of registered Republican voters in California polled by Berkeley IGS identified illegal voting as a threat of some kind to U.S. democracy, compared to just 45% of Democrats.
Renee DiResta, research manager for the Stanford Internet Observatory, said that the partisan divide could be an example of the "illusory truth effect," or when hearing a claim reinforced by people you trust can reinforce belief in that claim. Baseless claims about voter fraud have been widespread in conservative media.
"Not all people trust the same media, at this point, which is why you might see this kind of division represented," DiResta told The Examiner in an email.
McDaniel, the San Francisco State professor, said the Bay Area's partisan makeup as the state's most reliable Democratic stronghold is reflected in the percentage of regional voters identifying illegal voting as no threat or a major one in the poll.
As for why nearly a fifth of registered Bay Area voters identified illegal voting as a minor threat, he said many voters also aren't closely engaged with electoral politics in general, let alone specific issues like election integrity.
"They don't know before they're being asked about it, right?" McDaniel told The Examiner. "Unlike you and me, perhaps, they're not thinking about this stuff every day."