By Shannon Rose Miekka
The 2020 election was record-breaking in more ways than one. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is making several firsts of her own. Both candidates received more popular votes than any other candidate ever; Biden is the first candidate to beat an incumbent president since 1992. President-Elect Joe Biden’s dog Major will be the first rescue dog in the White House. Voter turnout is expected to be the highest since 1900.
While the country is still awaiting the final tally, so far, America has smashed voter turnout records. As of November 9, 66% of registered voters cast a ballot.
However, there is still a long way to go. When Pew Research ranked the voter turnout in recent nationwide elections, the United States placed 30th out of 35 nations.
Why do millions of people not vote? FiveThirtyEight recently published an article searching for the answer.
Image courtesy of FiveThirtyEight
When it comes to income, those who make $150K+ a year almost always vote. On the flip side, those whose yearly income is less than $40K “rarely or never vote.” Only 10% of those 65+ rarely or never vote, whereas the same percentage of 35-49 almost always vote.
In summary, based on FiveThirtyEight’s study, those who almost always vote are most likely white, high income, 65+, and college-educated. Nonvoters were more likely to have lower-incomes, to be young, and to have lower levels of education. They are also more likely to say that they don’t belong to either political party. All of these factors align with people who are less likely to engage with the political system.
Every election, it is estimated that 35 – 60% of the voting-eligible population doesn’t vote. Several people are met with barriers, as we’ve seen time and time again in the news.
“Our system doesn’t make it particularly easy to vote, and the decision to carve out a few hours to cast a ballot requires a sense of motivation that’s hard for some Americans to muster every two or four years — enthusiasm about the candidates, belief in the importance of voting itself, a sense that anything can change as the result of a single vote,” said Amelia Thomson DeVeaux on FiveThirtyEight’s article.
That sense that the candidates are too flawed to be worth voting for — or that the system is rigged, or can’t be fixed by voting — came up in many conversations with survey respondents for FiveThirtyEight.
So what happened in 2020?
This year, Americans were more engaged with the election than in previous years. 60% of voters claimed to be more enthusiastic than usual to vote this November. 83% of voters said that the outcome of this presidential election really matters, more than any point in the last 20 years.
And when political engagement goes up, so does voter turnout.
“That’s what really drives people to the ballot box: they cared,” Paul Gronke, a professor of political science at Reed College and founder and director of the Early Voting Information Center.