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Elon poll shows broad fears of AI interference in 2024 presidential race

2024 Primary Election Day in North Carolina
Matt Ramey
Voters cast their ballot in the primary election in Clayton, North Carolina on March 5, 2024.

A solid majority of Americans believe artificial intelligence poses a threat to the 2024 presidential election, according to a poll from Elon University.

The national survey conducted by the Elon Poll and the university's Imagining the Digital Future Center found 78% of respondents believe AI will be abused to impact the outcome in the race between incumbent Joe Biden and former Pres. Donald Trump.

"And they're not confident at all in their ability to detect fake information," Elon poll director Jason Husser said of the people surveyed. "They're even less confident in the ability of other voters to detect fake information."

According to the poll, 73% of Americans said they believe it is very or somewhat likely AI-generated content via social media, such as information from fake accounts or bots, will be used to influence the election. And 62% said they think the election will be affected by the use of AI to convince some voters not to participate.

Husser said misinformation in politics is nothing new, but the tools have changed drastically, evolving beyond Russian troll farms interfering in the 2016 elections.

"Now, a 12-year-old who fires up ChatGPT or some of these other systems can create something that's very realistic and, with social media, get it out to the masses pretty much instantly," Husser said.

Earlier this year, a political operative who claimed he wanted to call attention to the threat of election interference with artificial intelligence commissioned a robocall using an AI-generated imitation of Joe Biden urging New Hampshire voters to sit out the Democratic primary.

"The potential of AI may cause voters, particularly here in North Carolina, to simply discount all sources of information because they can't trust whether that is viable information or whether it's AI-generated," said Michael Bitzer, who chairs the politics department at Catawba College.

Bitzer said rather than turning skeptical voters away, a lack of trust in information might just further entrench a polarized electorate.

"If they identify as Republican, they're voting Republican no matter what information deluge is coming in to them," Bitzer added. "If they identify as Democrat, the same thing."

Husser said there's an optimistic and pessimistic way of looking at the poll results. The rosier view is that voters will be better informed because of a heightened awareness of AI trickery.

"Perhaps they'll be more sophisticated consumers of information, maybe they'll vet things, maybe they'll look to establish informational sources," Husser said.

The dimmer view, he added, is that fears of AI will just add to a general decline in trust in elections, and that fatigue over a rematch between two candidates with high unfavorable ratings will result in lower turnout.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.