Can Nonvoters Swing the 2020 Election? – By Colin Woodard (Politico) / Feb 19 2020
The largest study of the politically disengaged in U.S. history reveals a surprisingly diverse group of citizens and offers hints about how to reach them.
PHILADELPHIA—The Rev. Sonya Riggins-Furlow, a 63-year-old pastor at Butler Memorial Baptist Church, is worrying a lot about turnout these days. Not in her pews but at the polls.
Voting trends in the Grays Ferry neighborhood, a majority African American area undergoing gentrification, make her fear that Election Day 2008 —when people were lined up around the block to get into polling sites—might have been an aberration and that when it matters most this November, few will show up. She saw what happened in 2016, when the same voting locations were eerily quiet. Her parishioners and neighbors were registered, she says, but didn’t cast their ballot because they lacked enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate.
“My parents, they were coming out of that generation of the ’60s and the civil rights movement and you voted,” she says. “Now people just don’t get it. They look at it like they have other things to do, like grocery shopping or sending the kids off to school. But elections don’t happen every day!”
Riggins-Furlow’s sense of a fickle, distracted citizenry touches on one of the biggest mysteries of United States electoral politics: Why nearly half of the nation’s eligible voters almost never exercise that fundamental right. The sheer size of the group—approximately 92 million eligible voters—makes it a potential wild card in the 2020 presidential election. That is if the political world understood what keeps them away from the polls, and, more importantly, what might lure them in the first place.
On Wednesday, the Knight Foundation released the results of “The 100 Million Project,” the largest survey of chronic nonvoters in history, and the most robust attempt ever to answer some of the questions that have long bedeviled political scientists. More than 13,000 people were polled across the country, with special emphasis on 10 battleground states, followed by in-depth focus-group conversations with thousands of them. They were asked about their political preferences, media diets, social networks, income levels, general life satisfaction, and about their demographic characteristics and social connectivity, their reasons for not voting, and their assessments of electoral and political institutions. The result is the most comprehensive survey of the politically disengaged to date, with lessons political consultants, candidates and civic educators won’t want to miss.
Volunteers for the League of Women Voters help people register to vote at a Community Health Fair in Philadelphia this February.
“There’s a lot of conventional wisdom as to why somebody would not vote, but nobody has really gone to these citizens and asked them why they don’t vote,” says Sam Gill, chief program officer at the Knight Foundation, which decided to undertake the study last winter. “It’s the story of this huge portion of the population that consistently sits this out.”