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One Big Reason Congress Ignores the Poor: They Don't Vote

Sean McElwee

Not that many people vote in midterm elections. While 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2012 presidential race, a mere 41.9 percent did in 2014, according to data from the Census Bureau. Midterm turnout isn’t just low, though. It’s falling. It tumbled from 47.8 percent in 2006 to 45.5 percent in 2010 before falling yet further to 41.9 percent in 2014.

This has a real impact on who we elect. Americans who vote are different from those who don’t. Voters are older, richer, and whiter than nonvoters, in part because Americans lack a constitutional right to vote and the various restrictions on voting tend to disproportionately impact the less privileged. In 2014, turnout among those ages 18 to 24 with family incomes below $30,000 was 13 percent. Turnout among those older than 65 and making more than $150,000 was 73 percent. The result is policy that is biased in favor of the affluent. As I argue in a new report, "Why Voting Matters," higher turnout would transform American politics by giving poor, young, and nonwhite citizens more sway.