NC poll finds support for voter ID drops with more information about alternatives, impact of laws

One of the strongest arguments going for lawmakers who support tougher voter ID laws is that, according to many polls, the measures have public support. In North Carolina, for example, a WRAL TV survey last October found 69 percent favor requiring a photo ID to vote.

But a new poll by SurveyUSA -- sponsored by the N.C. League of Women Voters and Democracy North Carolina -- finds that most North Carolina voters are also fine with non-photo ID alternatives, and don't think voter ID should be a top priority.

North Carolina's House Elections Committee is set to take up the question of voter ID this week, after holding hearings that have been dominated by ID opponents and divided along partisan lines.

The poll of 920 North Carolina adults, 87 percent of them registered voters,* 803 registered North Carolina voters also found that support for photo ID drops when voters hear about the potential negative impact on African Americans, seniors and other groups who disproportionately lack ID -- a finding in line with other surveys nationally on the issue.

Like other polls, SurveyUSA's found large support among NC voters for a photo ID measure. But the poll asked something most surveys don't: whether voters would also support non-photo ID alternatives. As the press release notes, North Carolina's current policy found nearly equal support:

The poll by SurveyUSA indicates that 75 percent of voters favor a photo ID requirement, but 70 percent would not turn away a registered voter who doesn’t have one, if the voter signs an affidavit and provides a verifiable ID number such as a date of birth or social security number.

The poll also reveals public suspicion about photo ID requirements if they are shown to disproportionately impact certain voters. According to SurveyUSA, 72 percent agreed with the statement that "it's wrong to pass laws that make it harder for certain people to vote," and 62 percent said they'd "oppose a law that makes it harder for people of one party to vote."

Given these misgivings, why does support for voter photo ID laws still register high in the polls? Support appears to be driven by a belief that in-person voter fraud is widespread, a claim frequently repeated by conservative lawmakers and advocates who support the measures.

Forty percent of the North Carolina voters in SurveyUSA's poll agreed that "cases of people voting in the name of someone else are commonplace," despite little evidence.

Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, a supporter of voter ID, admitted as much in a March 2013 interview with MSNBC, when he said:

There is some evidence of voter fraud, but that's not the primary reason for doing this ... We call this restoring confidence in government. There are a lot of people who are just concerned with the potential risk of fraud."

But if the chief goal of N.C. lawmakers is merely to reassure voters about a perceived threat, rather than a real one, SurveyUSA's results should give them pause: 74 percent agreed with the statement, "Legislators should show evidence of significant problems, such as real voter fraud, before they pass laws that make voting more difficult."

* CORRECTION: While the pollsters called 920 people, only 803 were registered voters, and those were the only people included in the survey results.