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Mightier than the 'tea party': The American non-voter

The real majority in the midterm elections will be those who just skip it. Non-voters are younger, poorer, less educated and more liberal than likely voters.

October 31, 2010|By Michael Muskal

It may be the “ tea party” movement that is fueling the great political outpouring this year, but it is an even greater grouping -- those who don’t vote at all -- who will likely determine the elections.

As the midterm election cycle finally approaches its end on Tuesday, the media will continue to be full of stories about the anti-incumbent anger swirling through the electorate and the even more pronounced partisan disagreement over how the economy is doing and is being handled politically.

Two things are worth remembering with Nov. 3, the day after the election, on the horizon. The overwhelming majority of incumbents will be reelected even if Republicans win control of the House and gain influence in the Senate, as most polls show. And the real anger over the economic recession is not enough to drive many people to vote.

According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, there likely will be more non-voters this year than voters. Indeed, turnout in midterm elections typically is less than 40% of the voting-age population.

The survey shows that those who choose not to exercise their franchise likely will be younger, less educated and more financially stressed than those who call themselves likely voters.

And, not surprisingly, those who choose not to vote could be considered more liberal than those who do, reinforcing the conventional political wisdom that the American electorate is right of center, and successful politicians are those who move to where the voters are.

According to the survey, just 31% of non-voters call themselves conservative compared with 46% of voters.

On issues, 52% of non-voters said they favored government providing more services, compared with 61% of likely voters who said they preferred a smaller government that provided fewer services.

On social issues, about the same percentage said they supported immigration reform coupled with stronger enforcement, 44% of likely voters to 43% of non-voters. Of those supporting same-sex marriage, likely voters were at 42% and non-voters at 43%. But likely voters by 50% to 45% outweighed non-voters in opposing same-sex marriage.

michael.muskal@latimes.com
twitter.com/LATimesmuskal

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