WASHINGTON, D.C. — Going into the 2020 election season, Americans are worried about the next wave of election interference, and they’re skeptical the U.S. government is doing enough to defend against those potential attacks, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll.
They’re right to be concerned. As a new Rolling Stone investigation revealed, counties, states, and the federal government have made progress since the 2016 elections to guard against election hacking and combat foreign online propaganda. But many more vulnerabilities remain in the form of out-of-date voting machines, easily infiltrated voter registration databases, websites and databases vulnerable to ransomware attacks, or weak spots in the architecture of the internet itself that could allow adversaries to cause chaos on election day. If the goal of Russia’s cyberattacks and online propaganda during the 2016 U.S. election was proving it could be done, the goal in 2020 — whether it’s Russia, Iran, or North Korea — could be to undermine Americans’ trust in the integrity of our elections.
According to the poll, there’s evidence a sizable percentage of Americans have already lost some faith in the security of our electoral process. Just 62 percent of respondents in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll said U.S. elections were fair. Four in 10 people surveyed said they believe a foreign country will tamper with the actual vote count in the 2020 elections, even though there’s no evidence of vote-tampering in the last two elections.
In all, 41 percent of Americans who were surveyed said they thought the U.S. is “not very prepared” or “not prepared at all” to keep November’s elections safe and secure. There’s a partisan split on this question: 85% of Republicans said they think the country is prepared and two-thirds of Democrats think it isn’t. That’s not at all surprising given the Republican Party has every reason to downplay the ample evidence of interference in the 2016 election, and to promote the notion that Trump won the election on his own right, without Russia’s help.
Respondents also gave a mix of answers when they were asked to pick the biggest possible threat to this year’s election, naming disinformation, voter fraud, voter suppression, and foreign interference.
President Trump — who in 2016 invited Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails (“Russia, if you’re listening …”), who was impeached partly for soliciting Ukraine’s help to damage Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and who has also called on China to interfere in the 2020 campaign — fared poorly in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. More than half of Americans (56 percent) said he has done little or nothing at all to prepare the country for interference and online propaganda in the upcoming election.
And almost as many people (51 percent) said Trump has personally invited election interference. As Joshua Geltzer, a former National Security Council lawyer under President Obama, recently told me, “There’s a counterintelligence threat coming from inside the White House. How do you guard against that?”