Most voters say postponing presidential primaries amid coronavirus outbreak has been necessary
County election workers hand out signs to put up at polling stations in Dayton, Ohio, after the state’s March 17 presidential primaries were canceled. (Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images)

As several states postpone their presidential primaries amid the coronavirus outbreak, most voters say the delay was a necessary move – and similar shares say they would personally feel uncomfortable going to a polling place to vote.

Nearly seven-in-ten registered voters say postponing state primary elections has been a necessary step to address the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Pew Research Center survey. This includes about two-thirds of Republican voters (64%) and 71% of Democratic voters.

The survey, conducted March 19-24 – just after Ohio announced it would delay its primary – also finds that majorities of voters who are Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (68%) would personally feel uncomfortable visiting a polling place to cast their ballot. A smaller majority of Republicans and Republican leaners – who do not have a competitive primary this year – also say they would feel uncomfortable (58%). As of today, a total of 15 states have delayed their primaries. Notably, the Wisconsin primary remains scheduled for April 7.

How we did this

To examine how the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted voters’ views about voting and elections, we surveyed 11,537 U.S. adults (including 9,617 registered voters) from March 19 to 24, 2020. Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used in this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology. See this appendix for an explanation of how states were categorized by COVID-19 impact.

About three-quarters of Democratic voters living in states where the presidential primary had been delayed as of the survey period say postponement was necessary. A somewhat narrower majority of Democrats in states that already conducted their primaries (68%) say this.

There are only modest differences among voters in their comfort level with going to a polling place.

Women voters express more discomfort with visiting a polling place than men (70% vs. 56%, respectively). Younger voters are also slightly more likely to say they would be uncomfortable going to a polling place to vote amid the current outbreak.

Large shares of white, black and Hispanic voters express discomfort with the idea of casting a ballot in person, but Hispanic voters are the most likely to say they would be uncomfortable (72% vs. 62% of black and white voters).

Voters in the states hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak at the time the survey was fielded are also slightly more likely to express discomfort with going to the polls: 66% say this, compared with 60% among the states that had seen less of an impact.

Hannah Hartig  is a senior researcher focusing on U.S. politics and policy research at Pew Research Center.
Bradley Jones  is a former senior researcher focusing on politics at Pew Research Center.