Why Many Americans Don’t Vote and How NGP VAN Can Help

In the United States, elections are won or lost more often by differences in voter turnout among various demographics than in how all the eligible voters in a particular jurisdiction actually view a particular candidate or issue. This is because voter turnout in the United States is far lower than in most other established democracies around the world, which leaves the outcome of elections up to those who actually vote. Understanding the complexities of why Americans don’t vote is critical to putting NGP VAN software to the best use. It is also critical in using NGP VAN software to win elections.

Let’s look at the overarching stats. In the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, voter turnout hovered around forty percent. This means that the majority of Americans who were eligible to vote, around sixty percent, did not vote! Sadly, this means that tens of millions of potential American voters did not vote for senators, representatives, county supervisors, mayors, city council members, sheriffs, school board members, bond initiatives, or in many other elections that truly matter. Of course, this also include candidates for state houses where members determine the enactment of important state laws and how a state’s money will be spent.

The only positive that could be said about low voter turnout in America is the fact there is a lot of upside available to candidates and issues where the entire pool of eligible voters would prefer change. The use of NGP VAN software can certainly help turn out more voters that don’t normally vote in midterm elections. Consider this stat too for those individuals already thinking ahead to the 2020 presidential election. On average, only about sixty percent of all eligible Americans vote in presidential elections. If you start planning now, NGP VAN software can be a very potent tool, a not so secret “secret weapon” if you will, to turning out some of the forty percent of voters who haven’t voted in the past during presidential elections.

By contrast to voter turnout in America, most other democracies turn out on average, 70-90 percent of all eligible voters, even during “off year” elections. For example, Germany has about a 76 percent voter turnout. Denmark and Sweden both have about an 86 percent voter turnout. This is based on data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which is considered one of the most trusted sources for this type of data. While America may not be ready yet for voter turnout quite this high, the good news is that all indications suggest that voters are more engaged going into the 2018 midterms than they have been in decades. NGP VAN software can help tap into that swell of interest and turn it into actual votes!

In some democracies, adults can actually lose the legal right to vote for an extended period of time, if they fail to vote. For example, in Belgium if a voter doesn’t vote in four consecutive elections, they lose the legal right to vote for ten years. According to the IDEA, voter turnout in Belgium is about 89 percent so this type of “compulsory voting” does seem to work. Similar penalties exist in Australia where voter turnout is a whopping 91 percent. In most democracies, there is also a certain amount of public shaming and other serious consequences to those who don’t vote, such as the inability to get a public job.

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Americans cherish their freedoms so it stands to reason that compulsory voting would likely not be popular in the United States. However, U.S. citizens do take pride in encouraging each other to vote, engaging with one another, and having a spirited debate on the candidates and the issues. When an election is all said and done, however, if this spirited discussion does not convert into votes, then what’s the purpose from a practical standpoint? NGP VAN software can help turn what Americans actually care about into real life votes that can turn elections in favor of your candidate or issue.

Think about this. Just a small increase in voter turnout, among certain demographics, can easily change the outcome of elections. This is true for local elections, state elections, and national elections. Activists and campaigns have come to depend on NGP VAN software to help them turn out voters who support their candidate or issue. Let’s look at some of the details about why eligible voters don’t vote and how you can use NGP VAN software to increase voter turnout for your candidate or issue.

What Can Be Learned From the Pew Research Center?

On June 1, 2017, Gustavo Lopez and Antonio Flores of the Pew Research Center released a report on why the registered voters who did not vote in 2016 didn’t vote. Here is the breakdown, by percentage, that they found in their extensive survey:

– Didn’t like candidates or campaign issues: 25 percent
– Not interested, felt vote wouldn’t make a difference: 15 percent
– Too busy or conflicting schedule: 14 percent
– Illness or disability: 12 percent
– Other: 11 percent
– Out of town or away from home: 8 percent
– Registration problems: 4 percent
– Forgot to vote: 3 percent
– Transportation problems: 3 percent
– Inconvenient hours or polling places: 2 percent

First, while it may be tempting to direct most of the energy of a campaign into addressing the most most common reasons Americans don’t vote, it may actually serve your candidate or cause better to step back and determine what issues are the “lowest hanging fruit” in terms of how easily solved these issues are. In looking at the list above of reasons people don’t vote, the most common one, while incredibly important, is probably the hardest to address. On the other hand, the bottom three issues, accounting for a total of 8 percent of those surveyed, seem much easier to tackle, especially with the help of NGP VAN software. Since many elections are won or lost by a small difference in voter turnout, these less common voter turnout issues could be absolutely pivotal in winning! Let’s take them one at at time.

People who work for or volunteer for political campaigns sometimes exist in a bit of a bubble, at least when it comes to what how important voting is to most people. The act of voting is so paramount to them, they don’t fully realize that to other people, voting may not rank as high on the priority list. So yes, believe it or not, some people in every election, simply forget to vote. If your team uses NGP VAN software to track who supports your candidate or issue when phone banking and canvassing, you can very easily generate lists of people to courteously remind to vote. In fact, you can ask your phone bankers and canvassers to actually ask people if they’d like to have email reminders, text message reminders, or phone reminders about when and where to vote. Many voters actually appreciate this very much. You can then have that entered into the NGP VAN voter database you create and follow through diligently on these reminders.

It looks like three percent of the voters surveyed in the Pew Research Poll cited transportation problems as the reason they did not vote. Remember, this three percent is an average. Transportation could be an even bigger issue in your particular district. So, you can create a higher voter turnout for your candidate or issue by simply adding a place in your NGP VAN voter database to ask people if they need a ride to the polls. If a voter says yes, you can have volunteers give them a ride. You can also create lists from your NGP VAN voter database of those who need a ride to the polls and have your phone bankers call these people a few days beforehand and check in with them to remind them that you are providing them with transportation to the polls and to make the specific arrangements.

Two percent of those polled said their reason for not voting had to do with inconvenience, either in the hours established in their precinct or with some problem with the polling places. For example, starting in the 2016 primary, Arizona closed hundreds of polling places. This made it much more difficult for many voters to get to their polls. Lines were much longer than they had been in previous elections and and the wait time to vote increased substantially as a result. Some people waited for hours to vote and suffer heat stroke and other serious medical conditions. Ambulance rescue was hailed. Other voters got frustrated and left. Some parents HAD to leave because they needed to pick up their kids.

The above situation can be ameliorated by using NGP VAN software to first identify voters who support your candidate or issue and then train volunteers to make these voters are aware that Arizona does allow for “no excuse” early voting. This means a voter can vote early, absentee, without having to provide any specific excuse. The same is true in many other states, although voters don’t often know this. Once your team has identified voters with this potential problem within your NGP VAN voter database, you can then institute an outreach program to find workarounds. So in Arizona, for example, you could have your volunteers help educate people on how to vote absentee. You could even put more emphasis on elderly voters, parents, and others who may be more affected by long lines at the polls.

It should be noted that the Pew Research Center self identifies as a “nonpartisan fact tank,” but perhaps more importantly, their data is one of the most trusted sources for general voter turnout data. They conduct scientifically valid opinion polling and demographic research that is used by political strategists of all political persuasions. Further, their social science methodology is well respected among academics. If you use this data as your guide to brainstorm with your campaign organizers, you can put the NGP VAN software to good use in implementing a winning strategy. You could use the same tactic for voters who may be very busy or potentially have a conflict in their schedule.

What Can Be Learned From National Public Radio (NPR)?

Last week, NPR broadcast a special series of stories they called, “On The Sidelines Of Democracy.” They sent three reporters out into the field to explore the reasons Americans don’t vote. They talked with actual voters, went out with voting advocacy groups, and talked to experts about their data. Information gleaned from this NPR series can be used to make better use of the NGP VAN software.

Leila Fadel headed to El Paso Texas, a place where voter turnout is lower than average, even by American standards. El Paso is a poor community, with about half of the citizens living below the poverty line. Most don’t have health insurance either. Leila spoke to a working mom picking up cookies for her daughter at a local bakery. After admitting she didn’t even really know who’s running, she states this about voting, “I don’t really think about it. It’s kind of sad to say but I don’t really think about what can be better in my life… I do what I can do to make my life better and I don’t depend on them to change things for me.” By “them,” the working mom is referring to politicians.

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This woman’s sentiment about voting is quite common. Many non-voters don’t really make the connection between voting and improving their life or even the life of their family. Using NGP VAN software makes it much easier to keep track of what concerns voters have. For example, phone bankers can ask questions like, “If you could change one or two things in your life, what would you change?” Depending on their answers, various lists can be made within NGP VAN and given to volunteers who can then explain during followups why their particular candidate or issue  would address their biggest issues. In this way, NGP VAN can help you allow non-voters to target themselves with the issues they care most about.

Asma Khalid headed to Georgia where she interviewed non-voters who were quite discouraged about voting. One woman in Houston County told her, “It doesn’t matter whether I’m registered to vote or whether I go vote because I don’t see anything changing. We’re still being profiled. We’re still being gunned down. We’re still being, nothing is changing.”

A man in a Georgia barbershop explained his reason for not voting in the following way, “The reason I don’t vote on a national level around here, it’s a red state,in other words, I’m pretty sure I could do my own mathematics and figure out what’s going on but I know this vote is not really going to really matter for president.”

There are many real and perceived barriers to voting that Americans face. NPG VAN software can help you help your candidate or issue by creating a highly customized voter database that identifies the key voting hurdles in your specific area. Does a large swathe of your potential voters feel their vote doesn’t count for some reason? Do they feel nothing changes even if they do vote? Do they stay home on election day because they think the outcome is predetermined? Once you identify these voting barriers in the NGP VAN voter database your team creates, you can use it to strategize on messaging. You can also modify and tailor your messaging for specific areas depending on the barriers that potential voters in those areas express.

Asma also went to Nevada to talk with non-voters and voting activists and came back with more invaluable insights. For Nevadians aged 18-29, Las Vegas has one of the worst voter turnouts in the country. Asma interviewed a non-voting mom in this age bracket living with her parents and siblings, “It’s not easy, you know, being a mom and then being wife, having to cook and just still trying to keep up with work and school… One of the main reasons why I haven’t voted is because I feel that I’m always too busy.” Remember too, the Pew Research Center found that 14 percent of non-voters polled said they were too busy and or had a conflict in their schedule.

NGP VAN software can help you help potential voters overcome the issue of being too busy to vote in a number of ways. First, your team can develop lists of registered voters that don’t vote very often from the shared pre-existing voter data found in the NGP VAN system. Second, you can incorporate questions that will help identify this potential problem and incorporate this into the script canvassers use. This is now made exceptionally easy with the MiniVAN Touch smartphone app.

Depending on how a potential voter answers a question such as, “Does your schedule allow you to vote?” the app can prompt the next question or response depending on what they said. For example, if the potential voter says they want to vote but they usually don’t have time to vote, your canvassers can talk with them about alternative ways to vote other than actually standing in lines at the polls. Third, you can use the NGP VAN personalized voter database you create to have your canvassers follow up with this voter to ensure they successfully accomplished the alternative form of voting and determine if they may need some help in setting that up or maybe just some additional encouragement to stop procrastinating.

Asma also encountered a community activist that explains that politicians sometimes pay more attention to issues that seniors care about, such as social security, than issues like student loan debt that younger voters care about. While this may be a rather pessimistic view for younger people, there was also good news from this activist. He showed Asma an example of a young voter who was contacted by canvassers in 2016 FOUR times. The persistence paid off because she did vote on election day! NGP VAN software can help your team keep track of every contact with every voter so that your team can build on each interaction so that each contact improves your odds that you will get the person to vote.

Good luck on your campaigns and be sure to use NGP VAN software to improve your success!