Story at a glance

  • A new study by the Knight Foundation looks at the characteristics of nonvoters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
  • Women and minorities make up a larger percentage of nonvoters than voters, according to the study.
  • Many nonvoters report feeling uneducated about candidates and political issues.

After the 2016 presidential election shattered the expectations of pollsters and experts, some pointed the finger at nonvoters. In 2016, nearly 100 million eligible Americans did not cast a vote for president, representing 43 percent of the eligible voting-age population.

So who are these nonvoters? Women, mostly, according to a new study

“Politics is like another language to me. I don’t care about it and don’t want to learn more about it," a female nonvoter from Las Vegas told researchers from the Knight Foundation. Another female nonvoter from Manchester said, "I’m more involved in my immediate life and my family. I don’t care about politics.”

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The study looked at voters who had participated in one or fewer of the past six national elections, voting a maximum of only once in the past 12 years. Fifty-three percent of these voters were women, and while sixty-five were white, the percentages of Hispanic, black and Asian nonvoters (15 percent, 13 percent and 4 percent respectively) were greater than those that were voters. 

“There’s really a broad spectrum of the type of people we’re talking about and there’s a broad spectrum of reasons that they’re not voting,” said Evette Alexander, Director of Learning and Impact at the Knight Foundation.

The study focused on the center of this Venn diagram to determine what nonvoters had in common. Many were not big news consumers or very civically engaged, had little trust in the election system and little interest in politics.

“Those were the nonvoters that are a bit more female, a lot of them weren’t in the workforce, they were a full time parent or underemployed,” Alexander said. “Social networks and workforce networks tend to put things like politics more on one’s radar.”

Underemployed citizens who were unsure of their political stances were the least engaged and resourced, the study found, and the most female, 65 percent. Most nonvoters were also more comfortable leaving the decisions to others, the study found. In fact, Alexander recalled one Florida woman in a focus group said she thought it was in the country’s best interest that she didn’t vote. 

“I was surprised to see many nonvoters express a sentiment that they would be doing a disservice to the country by voting because they didn’t feel educated enough and that an uneducated vote would be worse than not voting at all,” Alexander said. 

Thirty percent of nonvoters hold a high school diploma or less, the study found, compared to 16 percent of active voters. Income and age also played a significant role in determining whether someone was more or less likely to vote.  

Published on Feb 19, 2020