Despite Gains in Participation Among Certain Groups, New Research Shows that the American Electorate Still Does Not Represent the American People

By Project Vote August 1, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC — 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.

###

 

Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, non-profit organization dedicated to building an electorate that accurately represents the diversity of America’s citizenry. Project Vote takes a leadership role in nationwide voting rights and election administration issues, working through research, litigation, and advocacy to ensure that every eligible citizen can register, vote, and cast a ballot that counts.