Honors Thesis Spotlight: Analyzing the Effect of Trust on Voter Decision to Vote By Mail: Data Collection From the 2020 Presidential Election

Analyzing trust within politics is usually measured through trust in the government, but the goal of this research is to evaluate individual government figures. Trust within the government was centered around individual trust by examining rhetoric and utilizing the Receiving-Accept-Sample Model. Specifically, the relationship is studied through the voters’ trust in Donald Trump by voting by mail. The research presented was conducted through a survey given to 467 potential voters, and conclusions were later drawn from the results. The results were not statistically significant per tabular analysis, which indicates a weak relationship between the variables.

This research examines the unprecedented nature of the 2020 presidential election with COVID-19. Since the spread of the virus, most states opted to increase votes by mail-in election. Donald Trump was displeased by this decision because he felt that there would be voter fraud present. His competitor, President Joe Biden, advocated for mail-in votes because it was considered the safer option at the time. Prior to the election, the research found that 89 percent of Joe Biden supporters in vote-by-mail states preferred to vote through the mail, while 43 percent of Donald Trump supporters in the same voter-type states preferred to vote by mail. Also, 11 percent of Donald Trump supporters who considered themselves “very conservative” professed that they would be voting by mail. A majority of Donald Trump supporters, around 63 percent, valued voting in person on election day. There is a clear distinction between the two parties’ views on voting by mail, which the research attributed to the relationship to partisanship. The rhetoric exhibited by both candidates might have had an effect on this relationship considering 58 percent of Joe Biden voters submitted their votes through mail compared to 32 percent of total Trump voters who used the mail-in option.

There are gaps in existing research that do not acknowledge the individual trust of represented politicians. It may be because prior to the 2016 presidential election, voters did not attribute the dissatisfaction with the election to widespread fraud by the candidate or party. The importance of this study is due to the newfound cult mentality formed around politicians.

Through research, the author found that many Republicans, but few Democrats, disagreed or objected to voting by mail. This caused people to distrust the Democratic party and lower the support to sustain democracy. If there was a weakening in the faith of the election, this would cause an issue to maintain democracy in the United States. This instance caused the author to look more closely at the relationship between voting and the trust of the individual figure. The issue that led to this research was if there was a weakening in faith for the elections, then it would cause a lack to maintain democracy. The researcher used the Recieve-Accept-Sample Model to formulate her theory and hypothesis. The first portion of this model, Receive, is valued through the individual obtaining information via elites or the media. The Accept part is what the voters chose to do with the information they obtained and if the voters chose to reject or accept the information. The researcher hypothesized that if the voters were to reject the information it would be related to partisanship or the level of trust in the individual figure (i.e. Donald Trump). So, if there is more trust in Donald Trump, there would be more voters who chose to vote in person rather than by mail. It would reflect the idea that there is greater voter trust in Donald Trump and the acceptance of the information they were given (i.e. voting by mail will equal voter fraud). It is expected the percentage of voters on election day would be increased with trust for Donald Trump. This would show that there is a bigger relationship between voters and Donald Trump (the individual figure) than the relationship between voters and selected politicians and wings.

The results of this study concluded that the least number of respondents of the trust level “just about always” in Trump was choosing to vote by mail; but, the trust in the respondent’s selected figure, absentee ballot voters chose the levels “just about always,” “most of the time,” or “about half the time.” This relationship showed that the voters who had little trust in Donald Trump were more likely going to vote by mail. Respondents of “About half the time” or higher were more likely to vote in person on election day or by early voting. Although, these figures do not represent party identification (PID). Since there were conflicting and missing variables, it was not concluded that voters who had higher trust in Donald Trump would vote in person. The researcher potentially believes that this is because of the small percentage of the Republican population. There is also no observation that the relationship between Donald Trump and voting was stronger than the relationship between the trust in selected figures and voting.

Leila Basili is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Leila’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Lindsey Anderson.

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