WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 14, 2017) – A new Pew Research Center analysis combining people’s voting histories from a national voter file with their attitudes about politics and civic engagement finds that “drop-off” voters differed in many ways from consistent voters and nonvoters. Drop-off voters were those who cast ballots in the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, but not the 2014 midterms, while consistent voters voted in all three elections. Nonvoters were registered to vote, but did not cast ballots in any of the most recent national elections.
The 2018 midterm elections will be determined in large part by who goes to the polls and who stays home. Historically, far fewer Americans turn out to vote in midterm than presidential elections and in 2014, turnout hit a 70-year low.
Even in 2016, a presidential election year when these drop-off voters turned out and cast ballots, they were considerably less engaged than 2016 voters who had also voted in the 2014 midterm.
In the survey, conducted in March and April during the presidential primaries, just 27% of drop-off voters said they were following the 2016 election very closely, compared with 49% of consistent voters. And drop-off voters were less likely than consistent voters to say that it made a lot of difference to them which party controlled the government; just 39% of drop-off voters said it mattered a lot whether Democrats or Republicans controlled the government, compared with 52% of consistent voters.
Drop-off voters, who had no record of voting in the 2014 congressional elections, were especially likely to place low importance on last year’s elections for the House. 8-in-10 drop-off voters (85%) said they personally cared a good deal who won the 2016 presidential election. But only half (50%) said they cared a good deal who won in their own House district.
By contrast, overwhelming majorities of consistent voters said both elections mattered a good deal: 93% said that about the presidential election, while 79% said they personally cared a good deal about who won local House election.
The study also finds:
Wide demographic and socio-economic differences between consistent voters, drop-off voters and nonvoters. For instance, 80% of those who voted in all three elections were non-Hispanic whites, compared with 62% of drop-off voters and 63% of nonvoters. A 65% majority of consistent voters were 50 and older; just 45% of drop-off voters and 32% of nonvoters were 50 and older.
Consistent voters were more likely to ‘live comfortably.’ When asked about the household’s financial situation, 41% of Republicans who voted in all three elections said they “live comfortably.” Among Republican drop-off voters 28% said they live comfortably, as did 30% of nonvoters. Among Democrats, the pattern is even starker: 37% of consistent voters said they live comfortably, compared with 27% of less frequent voters and just 21% of nonvoters.
Majorities of drop-off, consistent voters said they can impact their communities. Despite being less interested in politics, drop-off voters were about as likely as consistent voters to say that people like them are able to improve their local communities. About two-thirds of consistent (68%) and drop-off voters (64%) said people like them could have a big or moderate impact in making their community a better place to live. Only about half of nonvoters (53%) say the same.
This analysis is based on a nationwide survey conducted online among 3,763 adults March 25-April 19, 2016. Of the total sample, it was possible to match the voting records of 3,309 registered voters from voter file records compiled by TargetSmart. This analysis is further restricted to the 2,758 registered voters 22 and older in 2016 (those old enough to have been eligible to vote in 2012). The survey was commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts.