clock menu more-arrow no yes

Voters struggling financially are more likely to back Democrats — but less likely to turn out

A new report from the Pew Research Center suggests that less financially secure people tend to vote for Democrats. But they're also substantially less likely to vote:

Pew financial security

(Pew Research Center)

The study breaks the American public into five groups, from most to least secure, based on a variety of factors — the usage of means-tested benefits like SNAP and the ability to pay bills on time, for example.  The survey results, collected in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections, show that only 20 percent of the least financially secure Americans are likely voters. In the most secure group, by contrast, 63 percent are likely voters.

Why poor people don't show up at the polls

That poorer Americans vote in smaller numbers than richer Americans is well-established fact, and that trend has also until recently been accelerating. A 2009 study from researchers at the University of Minnesota found that voting turnout rates had fallen off faster for the poorer Americans than for wealthier people.

There are a lot of ways to explain why the poorest Americans aren't voting. One common explanation is that they can't get away from their jobs to go to the polls. Higher incarceration rates may also factor into this, not to mention lower unionization rates. Less organization could mean many workers have lost an important connection to what's going on in politics, as Lee Drutman wrote in an excellent 2009 article for the Pacific Standard.

The ideological divide between comfortable and struggling

Lower political participation by any demographic group means politicians will pay less attention to things that group cares about. And for the most struggling Americans, that's troubling. For example, the least secure Americans are far more likely to support government benefits and sympathize with their recipients. The most secure Americans, by contrast, are more likely to say that poor people "have it easy" because of government benefits.

Pew economics views

(Pew Research Center)

Less secure Americans also have more liberal views in a couple more economic areas — they're less likely to think American corporations make "fair and reasonable" profits, and they're to an extent bigger fans of government, saying it "does a better job than people give it credit for."

Immigration is the outlier

Pew finds there's only one area in which the most financially unstable Americans veer further right than the most stable ones: the economic impact of immigration.

It's only one issue, and it's been relatively minor in past elections. But with President Obama's recent executive order and the border crisis earlier this year, immigration is poised to play an unusually big role in the upcoming presidential campaign, and it may be one area for Republicans to pick up some of America's less financially stable voters.