A new study of public opinion regarding voter ID laws found that viewers of Fox News are much more likely to support those measures than other media consumers, and that individuals who wrongly believe voter fraud is common are more likely to support voter ID laws. These two groups have one thing in common -- exposure to right-wing misinformation about voter fraud.
In recent years, GOP-controlled state legislatures have been passing a series of measures ostensibly designed to protect the integrity of elections -- laws that, for example, require voters to present a government-issued photo id when attempting to cast a ballot. Given the absence of any significant voter fraud crisis in America and the fact that such laws negatively and disproportionately affect the ability of traditionally Democratic-voting demographics to cast a ballot, many have argued that these laws are meant only to stifle political opposition to the Republican party by making it harder for Democrats to get elected -- even Republicans have admitted as much.
On October 4, Public Opinion Quarterly published a study conducted by two professors at the University of Delaware titled, “The Foundations of Public Opinion on Voter ID Laws.” The study found that “perceptions of voting fraud as 'common' are associated with support for voter ID laws.” The study also found that Fox News viewers “are particularly likely to support voter ID laws, though no other forms of media use are significantly related to support.”
Voter fraud is not common. As the study noted, a state-by-state analysis of voting fraud conducted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York found “there were 2,068 cases of reported fraud among the millions of votes cast from 2000 to 2011. Over half of these cases of fraud involved problems with absentee ballots, which require no identification.” A study by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found in-person voter fraud to be “more rare than death by lightning,” and a New York Times investigation found “virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.”
Additionally, voter ID laws can disenfranchise voters -- particularly minorities, students, and the elderly. The Brennan Center conducted a poll which found that 11 percent of Americans say they do not possess government-issued photo identification, and this number includes “25 percent of African Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of persons aged 65 and older.”
Although the study does not determine a causal relationship between exposure to Fox News and the false belief that voter fraud is common, this effect would not be surprising. Fox News frequently misinforms viewers about voter ID laws and the threat of voter fraud. Below is just a sample of the kind of slanted coverage Fox presents.
The University of Delaware study notes that so far, many Americans remain relatively unfamiliar with voter ID laws. According to the authors, this suggests that “support for voter ID laws is susceptible to political communication effects.” Fox News, which often functions as the communications arm of the Republican Party, has not been shy about exploiting this vulnerability.