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New Demos Report Shows the Income Voter Gap's Effect on Public Policy

Voters are richer, whiter, and older than the general population, and prefer more conservative policies

Next week brings National Voter Registration Day, and not a moment too soon: the 2014 election had the lowest turnout rate on record. In the new Demos Report “Why Voting Matters,” Demos Research Associate Sean McElwee examines voter makeup by income and finds that 52 percent of those earning above $150,000 vote, compared to only 1 in 4 of those earning less than $10,000. He also compares the policy preferences of voters by income: in every examined policy, the majority of affluent voters oppose the progressive option, while a majority of low-income nonvoters support it.

"Gaps in voter turnout result in policy that is biased towards the wealthy in everything from higher education to balancing the budget."

“Voting is an essential part of democracy,” said McElwee, “yet millions of Americans don’t vote, particularly in midterm elections. Gaps in voter turnout result in policy that is biased towards the wealthy in everything from higher education to balancing the budget.”

The report examines a wide range of evidence, including public opinion data, historical research, and cross-national studies to show that higher voter turnout would lead to a more robust social safety net. Other findings include:

  • In 2014, 44 million eligible voters of color did not vote, and 66 million eligible voters earning less than $50,000 did not vote.
  • More than half of affluent voters (those earning more than $150,000) say the government should provide fewer services than it currently does, compared with only 19 percent  of low-income nonvoters (those earning less than $30,000).
  • 63 percent of non-registered Americans supported a proposal for government provision of free community college for all (with 17 percent opposed), while only 43 percent of registered voters supported the idea (and 36 percent opposed).

The report concludes with a list of policy recommendations, including the strong enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act and the full restoration of the Voting Rights Act and Automatic Voter Registration.