Non-Voters Were the Majority in 2010, Says New Study
“It is fair to say that 2010 was the year of older, rich people.” That’s the conclusion of a new research memo from Project Vote, “An Analysis of Who Voted (and Who Didn’t Vote) in the 2010 Election,” by Dr. Lorraine Minnite. It finds that wealthier voters and Americans over the age of 65 surged to the polls in 2010, and increased their support for the Republican party, while young voters and minority voters (who strongly favor Democrats) dropped off at higher rates than in 2006.
Two years ago, African-Americans, lower-income Americans, and young Americans all participated in the 2008 presidential election in decisive numbers, making it the most diverse electorate in history. In 2010, however, these historically underrepresented groups were underrepresented again, as they (in common with most Americans) largely stayed home. Non-voters were the majority in 2010, a fact that “throws cold water on any victor’s claims for a mandate.”
This new memo analyzes exit poll and preliminary voting data to give the first comprehensive picture of the 2010 electorate. While this election largely followed patterns typical of midterms, Dr. Minnite found a few distinct features of the 2010 electorate that help explain the results. Absent a national race to galvanize new and minority voters, fewer voters turnout and the populations that do vote tend to be older. The racial composition of the population that voted in 2010 closely mirrored that of 2006: 80 percent of voters were white, 10 percent were black, eight percent Latino, and two percent Asian.
However, several distinct features of the 2010 voting population stand out, and contributed to the results on November 3:
1. Senior citizens turned out in force, with the number of ballots cast by voters over 65 increasing by 16 percent. While making up only 13 percent of the U.S. resident population, Americans in this age group constituted 21 percent of 2010 voters. This age group also significantly increased their support of Republican candidates, from 49 percent in 2006 to 59 percent in 2010.
2. The number of ballots cast by Americans from households making over $200,000 a year increased by 68 percent compared to 2006.
3. Relative to 2008, minority and youth voters dropped out of the voting population at higher rates than whites, undoing much of the gain in demographic parity achieved in 2008.
4. Women—already one of the most reliable voting groups—increased their share of the electorate, and significantly increased their support of the Republican Party.
5. Bucking the national trends, Latinos increased their share of the voting population in several states, saving at least three Senate seats for the Democrats.
“Perhaps the most significant point about voter turnout in 2010 is how many voters didn’t vote,” wrote Steven Thomma and William Douglas at McClatchy Newspapers on our study. “Some 38 percent of eligible voters didn’t vote in 2008, and this November, another 33 percent didn’t show up, which means that ‘nonvoters were the majority in 2010.’”
As we know from our recent poll (among others), the electorate as a whole is shifting away from the views and values of these older, wealthier white conservatives who dominated the 2010 election: “As in most midterm elections, the people who voted in 2010 were not really representative of the American people,” says Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. “This study raises serious questions about which constituencies candidates choose to court and engage as they look ahead to 2012, since the electorate, as a whole, is shifting away from the views and values of the older, wealthier white conservatives who dominated the 2010 election.”