People Who Don't Vote
Why 50 million Americans wonít vote Tuesday, in two charts
Posted by Brad Plumer
November 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm
Back in the 2008 election, 131 million Americans cast a ballot for president. Thatís about two-thirds of eligible voters, which seems like a lot. Yet that still left more than 15 million people who were registered but didnít vote. An additional 30 million Americans werenít even registered. Why is that?
Earlier this year, the Census Bureau released an in-depth analysis (pdf) of voters and non-voters in the 2008 election. As Gwen Sharp of Sociological Images pointed out here, the census included a helpful breakdown of reasons that people gave for not voting. Hereís why 15 million Americans were registered but didnít vote:
Notice that apathy was a big reason ó roughly 4 million registered voters either werenít interested or didnít like the candidates. But polling place access was a major factor, too. Nearly a million Americans had ďregistration problemsĒ while 750,000 found the polling location either too inconvenient or had transportation problems. And some 2.6 million voters said they were ďtoo busyĒ to vote.
Now letís look at the 30 million Americans who werenít registered to vote in the first place in 2008. Their reasons:
Apathy plays a much larger role here ó some 15.5 million Americans didnít register in 2008 because they werenít interested or they outright refused. An additional 1.2 million figured that their vote would not make a difference.
But it wasnít all apathy. Some 5.7 million Americans either didnít know how or where to register or missed the deadlines. An additional 3.6 million Americans werenít eligible to vote, either because they didnít meet residency requirements or for other reasons (four states bar ex-felons from voting, for instance).
Over the years, experts have tried to come up with a number of proposals that might increase turnout. We could make Election Day a national holiday rather than holding it on a Tuesday. We could allow Americans to vote by email. We could make voting mandatory. And so forth. But few of these ideas have caught on yet. As a result, the United States still ranks incredibly low (pdf) among advanced countries in terms of voter turnout.
All in all, the charts above show 45 million American citizens who were either registered but didnít vote or didnít register at all in the last presidential election. According to Census data, that number has gone up steadily with each passing election, so we can likely expect around 50 million people to fall into this category on Tuesday.
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