Why is a third of the possible electorate not exercising their right to vote?

There has been a lot of discussion about record high voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election. 66.8% of all US citizens aged 18 and older turned out to vote in the fall of 2020, compared to 61.4% in 2016, and 63.6% in 2008. But even with 67% turnout, a third of voting age Americans did not go out and cast a ballot. 

It may seem surprising that so many eligible voters did not vote given 2020’s political climate and both sides’ assertions about the importance of the outcome. Popular wisdom might suggest those who don’t vote are apathetic and unreachable. 

But we aren’t so sure. Rather than assume we knew why people didn’t vote, we decided to go right to the source and ask. 

With a series of focus groups in 5 states, we spoke to 149 eligible voters who did not vote in the 2020 Presidential election. We spoke to people in Georgia before the January Senate runoffs, and we spoke to people in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada after the events of January 6th. 

We talked to Black/African American, Hispanic, AAPI, and white Americans across our target states. We talked to people from across the political and ideological spectrum. Our participants were all eligible to vote, and 80.5% of them told us that they were even registered to vote. 

When it comes to their relationship with democracy in the United States and why they didn’t vote in November 2020, our participants had some very interesting things to say. 

Over the next few weeks/months, we will report specifics about each of our groups, but one thing really struck us: these folks are NOT apathetic! 

In fact, many of them are actively engaged in their communities. But, when it came to democracy and voting, several major themes came up again and again across different demographic groups, political ideologies, and geographies: 

  • Trust (as in they want to trust the process but they really don’t)
  • Transparency (as in there is not enough and they want more)
  • Accountability (without accountability trust is not likely). 

There will be much more to come, stay tuned and sign up for email updates below!

All the best,

Jessie and Sara
Public Wise Research

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A Closer Look: Who did we talk to?

Non-Voter Focus Group Descriptives:

149 total participants

REGISTERED TO VOTE:

  • 120 of our 149 participants say they are registered to vote (80.5%)
  • 2 participants say they are not sure if they are registered (1.3%)
  • 27 participants say they are not registered (18.1%)

GENDER:

  • 82 participants were female (55%)
  • 66 participants were male (44.3%)
  • 1 participant identified as non-binary (0.67%)

GEOGRAPHY:

  • 22 participants in Arizona (14.8%)
  • 41 participants in Georgia (27.5%)
  • 27 participants in North Carolina (18%)
  • 16 participants in Nevada (10.7%)
  • 43 participants in Pennsylvania (28.9%)

RACE/ETHNICITY:

8 AAPI participants (5%)

41 Black/African American participants (27.5%)

  • 24 Black/African American participants 18-35 (58.5% of Black participants)
  • 18 Black/African American participants 36+ (43.9% of Black participants)

23 Hispanic participants (15.4%)

77 White participants (51.6%)

AGE:

  • 18 18-25 year old participants (12%)
  • 45 26-35 year old participants (30.2%)
  • 39 36-45 year old participants (26.2%)
  • 37 46-55 year old participants (24.8%)
  • 9 56-65 year old participants (6%)
  • 1 66-75 year old participant (0.67%)

EDUCATION:

  • 22 participants with high school education (14.8%)
  • 52 participants with some college or trade school degree (34.9%)
  • 50 participants with a college degree (33.6%)
  • 5 participants with post graduate studies (3.4%)
  • 19 participants with post graduate degrees (12.8%)
  • 1 participant with missing information on education (0.67%)