At Trust Insights, one of our core values is, “We are cooperative and aware.” When we consider what invites change in government, the single greatest factor is voter participation. Regardless of political or ideological affiliation, encouraging more citizens to actively participate/cooperate in the political process is a worthy aim. Why don’t more people vote?

Fortunately, someone else already collects this data. After every 2 and 4 year election (midterm and Presidential), the United States Census Bureau collects what’s known as the Voter Supplement to the Current Population Survey. The Census Bureau asks thousands of citizens why they did or did not participate in the voting process, and publishes that data for the public good.

The challenge with Census Bureau data (and government data in general) is that it’s unwieldy to manage and analyze. Even when processed and refined by credible third parties, it’s still a pain. However, the insights within the data are too valuable to pass up, so let’s dive into what we found.

The Big Picture

Why don’t people vote? In the 2016 presidential election, the top reason cited in Census data was “Didn’t like candidates or campaign issues”, followed by “Not interested, felt my vote wouldn’t make a difference”. The chart below is divided along gender lines:

whydidnotvote

If the chart above is not clear, view the chart here on Tableau Public.

Age Matters

The greatest concentration of non-voters is in the 18-28 bracket; 15.5 million people ages 18-28 did not participate in the 2016 elections. The chart below is divided along gender lines:

didnotvotebyage

If the chart above is not clear, view the chart here on Tableau Public.

Educational Attainment Matters

The vast majority of eligible citizens who chose not to vote have a high school diploma or equivalent education. The chart below is divided along gender lines:

didnotvotebyeducation

If the chart above is not clear, view the chart here on Tableau Public.

Ethnicity Matters

The vast majority of eligible citizens who chose not to vote are ethnically Caucasian, followed by African-American, followed by Asian. The chart below is divided along gender lines:

didnotvotebyrace

If the chart above is not clear, view the chart here on Tableau Public.

In Total

In total, 53.8 million eligible Americans forfeited their right to vote during the 2016 election. The chart below is divided along gender lines:

didnotvote

If the chart above is not clear, view the chart here on Tableau Public.

What Next?

The message in this data is clear: change is dictated by those who participate. Regardless of your political orientation, if you want changes in the way the United States government operates, you and everyone you have influence with must participate and vote.

Any cause seeking to advance its agenda needs more voters; the good and bad news is that millions of Americans don’t participate, so there’s a huge amount of untapped potential support for what you believe in.

We encourage you to share this data, but more importantly, take action with it. Encourage people to vote. The next election in the United States is November 6, 2018. Whatever you believe in, do your part and help others to do their part by voting.

As President Lincoln said: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Only when every eligible citizen participates can we achieve this ideal.

Methodology

We used the 2016 Census Voter Supplement, cleaned and prepared by the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) project, part of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota. We downloaded 16 variables in the 2016 voter supplement and merged by metro and state to obtain demographics for the voter samples. The final weighting variable we chose was the WTFINL, the Basic Final Weight after accounting for variances in population data.

Academic citation: Sarah Flood, Miriam King, Steven Ruggles, and J. Robert Warren. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 5.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2017. https://doi.org/10.18128/D030.V5.0

The cleaned data is available in CSV format, ZIPPED, in this file, 2.3 MB.

Christopher S. Penn
Co-Founder


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