Poll: Why 80 Million Americans Didn't Vote In Year Of Record Turnout Nonvoters are disengaged and don't believe politics can make a difference in their lives. They are also more likely to be Latino, younger, make less money and have lower levels of education.

Poll: Despite Record Turnout, 80 Million Americans Didn't Vote. Here's Why

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This year's presidential election saw the highest voter turnout in 120 years. Two-thirds of eligible voters cast ballots, that still means a third did not, which is almost 80 million Americans who didn't participate. NPR partnered with Ipsos and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University to survey nonvoters to find out why they didn't show up and vote. NPR's Domenico Montanaro analyzed the results and he's here with us. Good morning, Domenico.


MARTIN: What's the reason? Why did people say they didn't participate this year?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, look; it is a lot of people, which is why we were curious to do this survey considering the narrative of this being such a record turnout year, which it was. You know, look; a lot of nonvoters are just outside the system. They don't trust politics. They aren't interested in it. They aren't even registered to vote. They don't like the candidates. And they don't think that their vote makes much of a difference. They're less engaged in their communities, less likely to volunteer or be part of civic groups. And they trust even their local leaders and local governments less than people who voted.

The bottom line here is that this is a group that's pretty disengaged. Take the presidential election, for example. It was everywhere, obviously - record-setting $7 billion was spent to put it front and center. And yet nonvoters didn't pay much attention. Just 38% said they followed the news of the campaign at least somewhat closely, compared to 79% of people who voted.

MARTIN: So clearly, as you've indicated, these are people who aren't engaged in civic life. But tell us a little bit more about who they are.

MONTANARO: You know, overall, nonvoters tend to be younger than voters. Thirty-five percent of the nonvoters in this survey were between the ages of 18 and 34. Nonvoters are more likely to be Latino, make less money, be less likely to own a home or be married, which, of course, can affect economic power. And they have lower levels of education. What really jumped out, though, is that a quarter of nonvoters in this survey are Latino. Compared to voters, Latinos are just 7% in this poll. So you know, really, a lot of them are just sitting it out. Latino nonvoters are more likely than others to say they don't have an interest in politics. And just half of Latinos in this survey were registered to vote, far below Black and white Americans. About eight in 10 of them are registered.

MARTIN: Is there anything that these Americans say would motivate them to vote in the future?

MONTANARO: You know, there really isn't a lot. When we asked that question, the top answer was none or nothing. More than a third of nonvoters said that. It's a group, really, who are tremendously disaffected and disengaged, don't believe politics can make a difference. There were some things that could help, like showing the government was cleaned up or making Election Day a national holiday. You know, but 70% of nonvoters are actually not registered to vote and thought that maybe being automatically registered to vote could help. And only a quarter of them said that campaigns had reached out to them at all this year, Latinos in particular, the largest growing group in the U.S. But voter outreach and voter registration efforts were really hampered this year by the pandemic.

MARTIN: So when so many people don't participate in the democratic system through an election, what does that mean for representation in our democracy?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, look; there are strong socioeconomic correlations when it comes to who votes and who doesn't. And as a society, I think we really have to think about, you know, the fact that big portions of Latinos, for example, the largest growing group in the country, outside the political system that's making policy decisions about their communities. And, you know, that kind of thing only perpetuates the types of policies that keep things the way they are.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: Yeah. You're welcome, Rachel. Thank you.


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