Major New Report Identifies Gaps in the American Electorate

With just over three months until the 2016 election, a major new report from voting rights group Project Vote identifies where participatory gaps still exist in the American electorate.

In Representational Bias in the 2014 Electorate, Project Vote Research Director LaShonda Brenson, Ph.D. analyzes registration and voting rates over every midterm and presidential election since 2004. The report examines participation for different demographic groups—according to race and ethnicity, age, gender, income, education, and other factors—to determine the ways in which the American electorate is becoming more or less representative of the citizen population.

“When our electorate does not accurately reflect the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity of the United States, democracy is not working the way it’s supposed to work,” writes Project Vote’s president, Michael Slater, in his foreword to the report. “Our national priorities are skewed, our most vulnerable citizens are left out of the process, and our government does not represent who we are as a people.”

Representational Bias in the 2014 Electorate provides comparative registration and voting data for the presidential elections of 2004, 2008, and 2012, and the midterm elections of 2006, 2010, and 2014, in order to trace how the composition of the electorate has changed in the 21st century. The report provides a comprehensive overview of where there is still significant work to be done to achieve a fully representative democracy.

Some key findings of the report include:

  • As has been widely reported, the 2014 midterm election marked a historic low in participation. Thirty-eight U.S. states had turnout rates under 50 percent in 2014, and the highest turnout rate was only 61 percent.
  • Black participation has been trending upwards over recent election cycles: since 2008, black Americans have been represented in the electorate in proportion to their numbers in the adult citizen population.
  • America’s growing population of Latino citizens remains significantly underrepresented at the polls: Latinos made up more than 11 percent of the adult citizen population in 2014, but just over 7 percent of the electorate.
  • Young citizens also continue to be severely underrepresented in the electorate: Americans under 30 made up 21 percent of the adult citizen population in 2014, but only 10 percent of the voting population.
  • Continuing historic patterns, the 2014 electorate skewed much wealthier than the general population. Less than a third of adult citizens making under $25,000 a year voted in 2014, compared to 51 percent of those earning over $100,000 dollars.
  • Gender and marital status are positively associated with higher registration and turnout figures. Women are typically more likely to participate in elections than men, and being married increases the likelihood that an individual will register and vote.

The report shows that, if disparities in participation had been eliminated in 2014, tens of millions more Americans would have voted:

  • If non-white Americans had participated at the same rates as white Americans, 8.4 million more votes would have been cast in 2014.
  • If people under 30 had participated at the same rate as those over 30, nearly 13 million more votes would have been cast.
  • If people making less than $25,000 a year had participated at the same rate as those making $100,000 or more, 9.8 million additional votes would have been cast.
  • If people with a high-school education or less had turned out at the same rate as those who had attended college, 15.6 million more votes would have been cast.
  • If persons with disabilities had turned out at the same rate as people with no reported disabilities, 2.4 million more votes would have been cast.

Looking ahead, it is clear that there is still enormous work to be done to ensure that the voice of the electorate successfully reflects the needs and interests of all Americans.

“The under-representation that we observe in voter registration and voter turnout is troubling,” writes Dr. Brenson. “Not only do these disparities have the potential to elect persons not representative of the population, but they also sway how current policies are enforced and whether new public policies are introduced that might address disparities.”

The full Representational Bias in the 2014 Electorate report is available here. A summary of key findings, individual tables and charts from the report, and individual fact sheets for all 50 states, are also available to download separately.

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Concord Coalition Releases ‘Key Questions’ for Candidates on Federal Budget

With the federal budget deficit on the rise again and the nation’s debt still on an unsustainable long-term path, The Concord Coalition today released this year’s version of its “Key Questions” that voters should ask candidates for federal office.

“Voters should expect candidates in this year’s elections to explain how they intend to deal with the huge challenges ahead,” Concord says in the introduction to the Key Questions. “This is no time for vague rhetoric and petty partisan jabs; voters should insist on credible solutions — the more specific, the better.”

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Topics covered by the questions include deficit-reduction plans, health care costs, candidates’ budget priorities, defense spending, the tax code, Social Security, other domestic spending and opportunities for bipartisan cooperation on fiscal reform. Candidates should also explain the relationship they see between getting our fiscal house in order and a strong economy.

“Key Questions Voters Should Ask Candidates About Our Fiscal Future” includes background information to help voters assess campaign rhetoric on all of these topics and evaluate whether individual politicians’ promises are responsible and their financial estimates reasonable.

Concord warns that some solutions won’t be easy because the problems go far beyond the simple “waste, fraud and abuse” that campaign speeches often dwell upon. Nor should voters expect strong economic growth alone to put the federal budget on a sustainable path.

The Key Questions are part of Concord’s “Lookout Campaign,” which encourages elected officials, candidates and the public to focus on the dangers posed by the growing pressures on the federal budget in the years ahead.  

“Doing nothing would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility, could jeopardize our economy and undermine our position of global leadership,” Concord says. “It would also burden our children and future generations with massive government debt. So what do the candidates propose? Voters have a right — and a responsibility — to find out.”

The document can be found here.