Obama Holds Strong Lead Among People Who Aren’t Going To Vote

There's a large group of people out there that like the President, but they're probably not going to vote.

A new poll indicates that President Obama holds a strong lead among people who, in all likelihood, will not be voting in November, although one of the reasons they won’t be voting appears to be frustration with him:

They could turn a too-close-to-call race into a landslide for President Obama— but by definition they probably won’t.

Call them the unlikely voters.

A nationwide USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll of people who are eligible to vote but aren’t likely to do so finds that these stay-at-home Americans back Obama’s re-election over Republican Mitt Romney by more than 2-1. Two-thirds of them say they are registered to vote. Eight in 10 say the government plays an important role in their lives.

Even so, they cite a range of reasons for declaring they won’t vote or saying the odds are no better than 50-50 that they will: They’re too busy. They aren’t excited about either candidate. Their vote doesn’t really matter. And nothing ever gets done, anyway.

(…)

Many of these unlikely voters are suspicious of and disconnected from politics. In the survey, six in 10 say they don’t pay attention to politics because “nothing ever gets done”; 54% call politics “corrupt.” Only 39% could correctly name the vice president, Joe Biden. (By contrast, a Pew Research Center poll in 2010 found 59% of American adults could name the vice president.)

On the other hand, they do see a difference between the two major parties: 53% disagree with the statement that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans.” Obama scores a huge advantage among all the unlikely voters. By 43%-18%, they support the Democratic incumbent over his Republican challenger.

“There’s this pool of people that Barack Obama doesn’t even need to persuade,” says David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which took the survey. “All he needs to do is find them and identify them and get them to the polls. It’s like a treasure chest. But the bad news is that the treasure chest is locked. …

The attitudes of the non-voters are ones  that many Americans share, of course, and it’s one of the reasons that we see things like a 10% job approval rating for Congress and a general sense that the country is on the wrong track, an attitude that has been prevalent since the 2008 financial crisis. Those are attitude that all Americans hold, though, it takes just a little bit more to push people into the “the hell with all of it” crowd sufficiently that they stay home on Election Day:

Even in 2008, when turnout was the highest in any presidential election since 1960, almost 80 million eligible citizens didn’t vote. Curtis Gans, director of the non-partisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate, predicts that number will rise significantly this year. He says turnout could ebb to levels similar to 2000, when only 54.2% of those eligible to vote cast a ballot. That was up a bit from 1996, which had the lowest turnout since 1924.

This year, perhaps 90 million Americans who could vote won’t. “The long-term trend tends to be awful,” Gans says. “There’s a lot of lack of trust in our leaders, a lack of positive feelings about political institutions, a lack of quality education for large segments of the public, a lack of civic education, the fragmenting effects of waves of communications technology, the cynicism of the coverage of politics — I could go on with a long litany.”

There’s also the relentlessly negative tone of this year’s campaign. The majority of TV ads don’t try to persuade voters to support one candidate but rather to convince them not to back the other guy. Romney ads portray Obama as a failed president and a liar. Obama ads describe Romney as a heartless corporate raider whose firm has laid off American workers while he parked some of his fortune in a Swiss bank account. (Both candidates dispute the truthfulness of the other side’s commercials.)

“I really don’t know much about him, but from what I hear, he’s all about putting taxes on the middle-class people, and I’ve heard that he’s put his money in overseas accounts,” Jamie Palmer, 35, a mother of three from St. Joseph, Mo., says of Romney, echoing accusations made in Democratic ads. “I think that’s wrong.”

So will she vote? Not a chance.

Palmer has never voted. “If a candidate I liked ran for the presidency, that had the right things to say, I’d go vote,” she says. “But they say the same things; they make promises; they don’t keep them. It’s ridiculous. If I vote, nothing is going to come of it. It’s just going to be like it is right now.”

Many will dismiss the attitudes of people like Palmer and say that she’s failing to live up to her “civic duty” to vote, but I honestly can’t say that I blame her. If I were an Obama voter in 2008 who was drawn to his candidacy by rhetoric of hope and change, or at least the idea that he’d be able to fix what’s wrong with Washington, I’d be pretty fed up with him too. Four years later, very little has changed in Washington, the economy is limping along, and the President has continued his predecessors practice of accumulation more and more power in the Executive Branch in the name of “national security.” On the other side of the aisle, we have a Republican Party that, with only a few notable exceptions, is largely devoid of ideas and completely uninterested in governing rather than scoring political points by doing things like holding 33 meaningless votes in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Some people choose to channel the frustration that the current political system into trying to change it, or supporting a third party, but others simply just give up, stop paying attention to the “news,” and essentially drop out of the political system. In all honesty, I can’t say that I blame them.

As I noted back in April, it’s fairly clear that we’re likely to see lower turnout in November than we did in 2008, most likely because a lot of the semi-engaged voters who were persuaded to vote for the President don’t really see a reason to show up at the polls this time. Additionally, as the campaign gets nastier and nastier there’s likely to be a not insignificant percentage of the public that is just going to switch the channel and spend the fall watching the NFL and the MLB Playoffs. It’s generally the case that the nastier a campaign becomes, the more voters becomes turned off and the more likely it is that voter turnout decreases.

The Obama campaign would no doubt like to get as many of these people to the polls as possible in November, and the campaign’s vast field operations are in part dedicated to identifying voters like this and trying to get them back into the mood of voting. Perhaps it will work to some extent, and in an election that is likely to be a close one it could make the difference in one swing state or another, but on the whole it’s just a fact of life that there is a large, if shifting, population of Americans who just don’t care to vote and there’s very little that any politician can do to change that. As far as I’m concerned, if they want to stay home on Election Day, that’s their choice.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    On the other side of the aisle, we have a Republican Party that, with only a few notable exceptions, is largely devoid of ideas and completely uninterested in governing rather than scoring political points by doing things like holding 33 meaningless votes in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    …and in a related matter, we have a Republican Party that is actively involved in legislating into place voter suppression laws that will effect the Democratic Party in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

  2. wr says:

    And when tens of millions of poor and minority voters are disenfranchised by Republican dirty tricks — like the vastly different poll hours for rich whites and poor blacks in Ohio — we can all shake our heads sadly and say “Too bad all these Americans don’t feel motivated to vote.”

  3. homerhk says:

    If I were an Obama voter in 2008 who was drawn to his candidacy by rhetoric of hope and change, or at least the idea that he’d be able to fix what’s wrong with Washington, I’d be pretty fed up with him too. Four years later, very little has changed in Washington, the economy is limping along, and the President has continued his predecessors practice of accumulation more and more power in the Executive Branch in the name of “national security.”

    But this is the worst sort of projectionism. The particular individual in the article HAS NEVER VOTED so by definition did not vote for President Obama expecting hope and change and is now disappointed. She’s not voting NOT because of some hoped for change that didn’t materialise or some broken promises but because she thinks and feels that politics is entirely broken. Of course, the solution to that is simply not to vote rather than vote for the one person, and one party, that’s actually trying to get something done in Washington to help more than then richest 1% of people. That makes sense. Totally.

    And please, Doug, you are a relatively sophisticated commentator so don’t take on the hands-in-the-air attitude of “they’re all the same, what’s the point” that may be understandable from people who are too busy to get into the nitty gritty but surely you must know that the main (and I’d submit only)reason why Washington is broken and unchanged is because of the unprecedented obstructionism from the Republican party. President Obama came into Washington genuinely trying to bring the parties together on the stuff they agreed on but it turns out that whatever Obama was for, the Republicans were against (even if they had been for it the week before). Shall we count the ways? Individual mandate, cap and trade, stimulus, tax cuts, DREAM act, deficit commission…the list goes on and on and on. Now, the average person may not appreciate that but you should.

  4. On Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 09:21 James Joyner wrote:

    As to the Electoral College, Doug, Steven, and I have written umpteen posts about it being Obama’s election to lose and Romney’s needing pretty much everything to align perfectly to win 270 votes.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Among all the layers of irony inherent to this phenomenon the one that truly boggles the mind is that for decades Democrats and two of their key affiliated groups (public K-12 teachers’ unions, the national media) have been hell bent on dumbing down the public. Well, be careful for what you wish. Now there’s this huge category of the near catatonic out there in Registeredvoterville. If they voted of course they’d vote for Democrats and by large margins too. Thing is, however, at this stage of the game they’re too apathetic, too disconnected, and, yes, too dumb to vote.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    If I were an Obama voter in 2008 who was drawn to his candidacy by rhetoric of hope and change, or at least the idea that he’d be able to fix what’s wrong with Washington, I’d be pretty fed up with him too.

    That was a breathtaking projection.

    … Yes, of course I’d blame Obama for the obstructionist House and Senators like Mitch McConnell who have dedicated themselves and their Party to opposing everything that Obama does – I mean, why doesn’t he capitulate to them? Now THAT would fix Washington (forever).

  7. walt moffettlandsli says:

    the long term trend in unlikely/discouraged/whatever voters is setting the stage for an eventual claim of overwhelming mandate based on the votes of say 25%+1 of eligible voters in a two humanoid race. Wonder how long before Nixon’s Silent Majority meme comes back in a shiny new wrapper.

  8. stonetools says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I guess Doug thinks Obama really is the Dune Messiah who can magically use THE VOICE to compel Mitch McConnell and the Republicans to cooperate, instead of opposing him tooth and nail.If you believe that, then it really is Obama’s fault for not changing Washington.
    My problem with Obama is that he pursued the whole ” bipartisan” dream for far too long, watering down legislation again and again in a vain hope to attract Republican votes and to woo the (mostly mythical) independent voter.
    A more realistic Obama would have accomplished more faster, IMO. I He would have gotten a bigger stimulus and above all wouldn’t have f****d around, waiting for months in vain for the Republicans to cooperate on HCR while Ted Kennedy died..
    The problem with Obama is NOT that he didn’t achieve his dream of hope and change . The problem is that he pursued his dream for far too long.

  9. Anderson says:

    for decades Democrats and two of their key affiliated groups (public K-12 teachers’ unions, the national media) have been hell bent on dumbing down the public

    Oh, I know! FOX News has done its best to educate us, but Glenn Beck can do only so much!

    … Seriously, this news story has to give Obama’s campaign a chill down the back.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    (public K-12 teachers’ unions, the national media) have been hell bent on dumbing down the public.

    Yeah…. right….. because teachers are evil. Got it.

  11. wr says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: No, individual teachers are great Americans. But let three of them come together to negotiate for decent pay and working conditions — then they become evil.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    The Republican party is engaged in a massive, multi-state effort to steal the election by disenfranchising voters.

    It’s un-American. It’s contemptible. It may succeed, but if Mr. Romney steals the White House he will never be president of the American people.

    I’ve accepted every president in my life time – even the ones I didn’t like at all. But I won’t accept as my president a man who steals an election. If this goes forward and succeeds the Republican Party will have carried out a coup, not an election.

  13. al-Ameda says:

    @stonetools:

    My problem with Obama is that he pursued the whole ” bipartisan” dream for far too long, watering down legislation again and again in a vain hope to attract Republican votes and to woo the (mostly mythical) independent voter.

    Exactly, the GOP put him on notice really early that they were not going to cooperate with a damned thing he wanted to do.

    And Just how fruitless was the effort to reach across the aisle? Well, the Senate’s preeminent moderate Republican – Olympia Snowe – managed to get put into the ACA everything she felt necessary to make ACA acceptable to the wider Congress – and then she voted against the bill. That’s what Obma was up against.

    Obama should have jettisoned the “reasonable” approach and torched guys like McConnell. He stayed “reasonable” and in 2010 the voters gave the keys to the House to Republican Party who thought so littel of governance that they were willing to trash the credit rating of American bonds in order to obstrct the president.

  14. Barfour says:

    I’ve said this before, if American voters do not learn how to elect smart and competent leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, who are true patriots loyal to America, not a political party, nothing is going to change.

  15. Ben says:

    @al-Ameda:

    No, no one blames Obama for the obstructionism. What I DO blame him for is the continuous going back on his word/previous views about executive power, national security, civil liberties, the drug war, etc.

    I voted for Obama in 08. I’ll probably vote for Gary Johnson this time around.

  16. Dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I have a lot of sympathy for that position.

    The obstructionism will be deemed successful. Both sides start doing it, and we are going to need a new system of government.

  17. KariQ says:

    I guess some people are just discovering that Likely Voters and All Americans are not identical groups, and that Democratic voters are slightly less likely to make it to the polls than Republican voters. I don’t know why this is “news” to anyone; this has been the case for my entire lifetime.

  18. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© says:

    @homerhk:

    I did vote for Obama in 2008. And I have never voted for anyone for President except the Democratic candidate.

    But I’ll be voting for Jill Stein this year.

    Obama has been busting his tail to cut Social Security his entire term, and now his Simpson Bowles Catfood Commission is the “liberal alternative” to Vulture and Voucher?

    To hell with that noise.
    ~