Getting Nonvoters to Vote

United States Voting

New Orleans      Now that the candidates for the US presidential election are no longer presumed, but set firmly in concrete, the fight will be ratcheting up to win voter support.  Interestingly, in such a divided country with such well-known and established candidates, the undecided voters are likely few, making the nonvoters critical to the contest.  These so-called “ambivalent” voters are an interesting and numerically huge number of people.  A recent overview sheds some light on who they are, but maybe more importantly, what it takes to move them to the ballot box.

There are a lot of them:

…nearly half of Americans regularly join the opt-out club. The political scientists Lyn Ragsdale and Jerrold G. Rusk of Rice University have calculated that from 1920 to 2012, the slice of voters who sat out presidential contests averaged 42 percent. According to the University of Florida Election Lab, 34 percent of citizens who were eligible to vote in 2020 did not. But in any given election, those who stay home or tune out may change: Fully 25 percent of the ballots in 2020 were cast by people who didn’t vote in 2016.

These same folks estimate that “…Roughly 75 percent of nonvoters…pay at least some attention to politics.”  They’re paying attention, they just need something more to convince them to vote, which often happens when there is a clear difference between the candidates or there is some defining national event like war, recession, or, most recently, a pandemic.

Here are some other interesting bits about these folks:

  • They lean with the wind: “…Pew Research has estimated that voters who skipped both the 2016 and 2018 elections, but participated in 2020 split their votes about evenly between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.”
  • “Candidates who look or sound original – like Barack Obama or Trump – draw new voters off the sidelines because of the contrasts they create with more traditional opponents.”
  • A huge percentage of these ambivalent voters are young people.
  • “…sudden, sharp policy changes may overshadow other concerns…[so] even though 51 percent of voters cast a ballot for Republicans in the 2022 midterms, according to Pew Research, their success was blunted by unaffiliated voters for whom abortion was a key issue. These citizens voted Democratic by a margin of 12 percent.”
  • Fear and anxiety drive nonvoters to the polls. “There’s nothing like the prospect of catastrophic loss to get voters rushing off the sidelines and onto the field.”

What does all of this mean for this contest?  For one thing, expect hyperbole and lots of Chicken Little, the sky-is-falling rhetoric from all sides.  Both campaigns have likely absorbed these bullet points about what it takes to motivate nonvoters into voters, so every imaginable button is likely to be pushed.  It won’t be pretty, but whoever does it better might be the winner.