I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how important it is to vote. Supposedly, if you vote for alternative Candidate X, then it is a de facto vote for Candidate Y. This Candidate Y could be either Trump or Clinton depending on the ideology of the one spewing this rhetorical nonsense. Nevermind that this line of argument places way too much stock in the value of a single vote. As political philosopher Jason Brennan points out, the disutility of driving to cast your ballot (i.e., the risk of harming others via an automobile accident) is higher than the actual utility of your single vote (i.e., the chance it has of changing the election outcome).1 The value of a single vote is vanishingly small, even in swing states. You have a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot 100+ times in a row than you do of casting the tiebreaker in a presidential election.
But when only 9% of the American public is behind the nominations of Trump and Clinton, shouldn’t we encourage more people to vote? I suppose that depends on how your political preferences match up with that of non-voters. So what are the preferences of non-voters? According to a 2014 Pew study, non-voters are a largely younger, poorer, uneducated, racially diverse group. More important, however, are their political affiliations and views: while the largest portion identified as Independents (45%), 29% identified as Democrats, leaving only 18% for Republicans. Furthermore, 51% indicated that they “lean Democrat” with only 30% “lean[ing] Republican” (20% said they had “no lean”). Fifty-three percent of non-voters held unfavorable views of Republicans (35% favorable), while only 40% held unfavorable views of Democrats (48% favorable). Their views on the Affordable Care Act were mixed (44% approved, 49% disapprove). Their views on government efficiency (54% think government is almost always inefficient, 43% think the government deserves more credit) and aid to the poor (44% said it did more harm than good, 51% said the opposite) were a bit more divided.
A 2012 Pew study highlighted the policies preferred by non-voters. At that time, Obama held a favorable view among non-voters (64%), 59% of which said they preferred him as their presidential candidate. The majority of non-voters believed that government should do more to solve problems (52%), should raise tax rates for incomes above $250,000, remove troops from Afghanistan ASAP (67%), allow same-sex marriage (49%), and legalize abortion in all/most cases (54%). They were more mixed on the United States’ stance toward Iran’s nuclear program (45% said take a firm stand, 40% said to avoid military conflict) and the growing population of immigrants (27% said it is a “change for the better,” 34% said it is a “change for the worse,” 34% said it “hasn’t made much of a difference”).
As reported in The New Yorker,
In 2013, the political scientists Jan Leighley, of American University, and Jonathan Nagler, of New York University, published the results of a study that compared, among other things, the political views of voters and non-voters, dating back to 1972. On most social issues (abortion, L.G.B.T. rights), there was no measurable difference between them. Non-voters were more inclined toward isolationism. (Leighley and Nagler thought this might be because non-voters knew more soldiers than voters, and were more reluctant to see them sent into conflict.) The difference on economic matters was much more dramatic. Non-voters, Leighley and Nagler found, favored much more progressive economic policies than voters did. They preferred higher taxes, and more spending on schools and health care, by margins that hovered around fifteen per cent. “The voters may be representative of the electorate on some issues,” Leighley and Nagler wrote, “but they are not representative of the electorate on issues that go to the core of the role of government in modern democracies.” That non-voters had the same partisan preferences as voters only seemed to strengthen the finding—they wanted more redistribution regardless of whether they were Democrats or Republicans.
These results have been substantiated elsewhere. As reported in The Atlantic,
Four questions from the American National Elections Studies (ANES) data show a stark divide on issues related to economic inequality. Nonvoters tend to support increasing government services and spending, guaranteeing jobs, and reducing inequality—all policies that voters, on the whole, oppose. Both groups support spending on the poor, but the margin among nonvoters is far larger. Across all four questions, nonvoters are more supportive of interventionist government policies by an average margin of 17 points.
Similar results were found with numbers from Pew and YouGov comparing “registered voters with the non-registered population. These polls were not taken close to elections, so registration can serve as a rough proxy for the voting and nonvoting population. The polls show the same dramatic differences. In every instance, net support for greater government intervention in economic affairs was higher for the non-registered populations—sometimes dramatically so. For instance, while net support for free community college was 7 points for the registered population, it was 46 points within the non-registered population.”
In short, non-voters tend to be more ideologically liberal than voters.
If you’re wanting to galvanize non-voters, you should know your audience. Liberals may have a more vested interest in doing so than conservatives. Libertarians will likely have mixed feelings.