Thursday, June 22, 2023

How Income Affects Voter Turnout in the US


A report by a non-profit group Washington Center for Equitable Growth has suggested a causal link between income and voter turnout in the United States, shedding light on how the longstanding income divide in the country could be derailing initiatives to ensure that all voices are heard in the political process.

The 2021 report titled “The consequences of political inequality and voter suppression for U.S. economic inequality and growth, ” which also discussed race-based voting gaps, revealed how higher-income citizens of the United States are more likely to vote than their lower-income counterparts.

“Between 1978 and 2008, wealthier Americans were 65 percent more likely to vote than those with low incomes. In 2016, a presidential election year, eligible voters with annual incomes of less than $50,000 voted at a rate of 55 percent, while 80 percent of those with incomes of more than $150,000 voted that year. Households earning less than $15,000 made up 13 percent of all households in 2009 but comprised just 6 percent of the electorate in the 2008 election,” the report said.

The authors cite how lower-income Americans might be less inclined to practice civic engagement due to the following reasons -- they are less likely get paid time off from work, are more likely to regularly move their places of residence, are incarcerated at higher rates, and are more likely to face unstable transportation and child care arrangements.

The report likewise discusses how voting behavior can actually influence the outcome of economic policy. Studies have shown, for example, that states with higher levels of income based voting divides are less likely to enact policies that benefit low- and middle-income Americans.

The existence of a feedback loop between economic inequality and voting inequality was also described by the report, detailing how economic inequality can lead to lower turnout among low and middle-income Americans, which in turn can birth policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor. This can further exacerbate economic inequality, creating a vicious cycle.

“Those who enjoy market power are, not co-incidentally, often the same citizens who enjoy outsized political influence, creating a feedback loop that perpetuates economic inequality, instability, and slow growth. Stated simply, a healthy economy requires a healthy democracy,” the report said.

The authors of the report argue that reducing electoral inequality is essential to reducing economic inequality. To short circuit the deadly feedback loop, the study urges policymakers to consider reforms to the country’s voting system to equalize access to the polls and ensure the electorate is truly representative of the country’s economic and racial diversity.

Specifically, the authors propose to:

· Ease voter registration requirements, potentially even making them automatic

· Enact same-day voter registration in all states consistent with those states that lead the nation in voter participation, where average turnout was more than 10 percentage points higher than in other states in 2012

· Restore voting rights to those with felony convictions, reduce wait times, guarantee paid time off for voting, and reestablish federal oversight through a restored Voting Rights Act.

The report urges policymakers to study how the measures taken by some jurisdictions including the expanded use of vote by mail and ballot drop boxes, could work to reduce income biases in election participation.

Washington Center for Equitable Growth is non-profit research and grantmaking organization advocating evidence-backed ideas and policies to promote strong, stable, and broad-based economic growth.