How Do Voters Differ from Nonvoters? And Does It Matter?

How do voters differ from nonvoters? And do these differences matter?

How Do Voters Differ from Nonvoters? And Does It Matter?

Jonathan Nagler, a professor in NYU’s Wilf Family Department of Politics, and American University Professor Jan Leighley explore these questions in Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States (Princeton University Press).

Their research, which compares the demographic characteristics and political views of voters and nonvoters in American presidential elections from 1972 to 2008, shows that the rich have consistently voted more often than the poor over the past 40 years and that voters are substantially more conservative in their economic views than are nonvoters. They also find that women are more likely to vote than men and that the gap in voting rates between blacks and whites has largely disappeared.

Nagler and Leighley also look at the impact of changes in election laws, which were aimed at increasing turnout. Their findings show that these reforms—such as election-day registration
and absentee voting—have increased turnout when adopted, but “that the effects are more modest than what some reformers may have hoped for,” the authors write.

Nagler, whose research focuses on the impact of economics on elections, is also part of NYU’s Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) project, which is examining the impact of social media use on political attitudes and participation.

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