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Fewer voters say they’re voting by mail amid uproar over USPS changes, CNBC/Change Research polls find

An election worker opens envelopes containing vote-by-mail ballots for the August 4 Washington state primary at King County Elections in Renton, Washington on August 3, 2020.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

A smaller share of voters expect to vote by mail in November’s election now than did two weeks ago, according to new CNBC/Change Research polls. 

The shift comes as Americans grapple with concerns about whether changes to the U.S. Postal Service will hinder efforts to count an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has insisted the post office can handle election mail despite the recent removal of some sorting machines and pick-up boxes around the country.

In the six critical states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 33% of likely voters said they plan to vote by mail, the poll released Wednesday found. A third of respondents to a new national CNBC/Change Research survey also said they expect to cast mail-in ballots. 

Fewer voters said they planned to vote by mail than did in a poll taken two weeks earlier. At the time, 38% of respondents in the six competitive states said they expected to cast mail-in ballots. Nationally, 36% of likely voters said they would use the voting method.

The biggest change came among Democrats, the group most likely to say they expect to vote by mail. In the poll released Wednesday, 57% of swing-state Democrats said they plan to cast mail-in ballots, down 7 percentage points from the last survey. The share of Democrats nationally who expect to vote by mail fell by 11 percentage points to 51%.  

The swing-state poll surveyed 4,904 people across the six states from Friday through Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points. The national poll surveyed 2,362 people from Friday through Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. 

As voters potentially risk their lives by going to the polls during the coronavirus pandemic, states have made it easier to cast mail-in ballots this year. States such as California have used widespread mail voting for years, and cases of fraud are rare. 

Even so, President Donald Trump has repeatedly made unfounded claims that Americans cannot trust the validity of an election conducted largely by mail. As the president runs for reelection in a race made more challenging by his struggles to contain the pandemic, Democrats have contended overhauls to cut costs at the post office overseen by Dejoy, a Republican donor, could suppress votes in November. 

Trump himself has said that, if the USPS does not get the emergency $25 billion cash injection Democrats seek, it could not process mail-in ballots. He said Democrats “need that money in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.” 

After widespread backlash to the comment, the White House later said Trump would not veto a coronavirus relief bill that includes emergency money for the post office. The House passed a standalone bill on Saturday that would put $25 billion into USPS and reverse changes made by DeJoy, but Republicans in the GOP-held Senate oppose it.

Voters think highly of the post office amid efforts to overhaul it. Two-thirds of battleground state poll respondents approve of the USPS, as do 69% of national respondents. 

Presidential race is close as Biden leads

The dispute over mail-in ballots comes at a time when Trump has faced a consistent polling deficit against Biden. While Wednesday’s CNBC/Change Research survey found a lead for Biden, it shows a close race within the president’s reach. 

Across the six swing states that will play a major role in determining the next White House resident, Biden leads Trump by a 49% to 46% margin. The Democrat leads in five of the six states, while North Carolina is virtually tied. 

  • Arizona: Biden 49%, Trump 47%
  • Florida: Biden 49%, Trump 46%
  • Michigan: Biden 50%, Trump 44%
  • North Carolina: Biden 48%, Trump 47%
  • Pennsylvania: Biden 49%, Trump 46%
  • Wisconsin: Biden 49%, Trump 44%

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