Often dismissed by political pundits as disaffected and disorganized, low-income voters played a key role in Donald Trump’s defeat in the presidential election, according to a new study.
High turnout among low-income voters in the 2020 election — especially in battleground states — helped deliver victories for Joe Biden and Democrats in the Senate and House, concluded the study, “Waking the Sleeping Giant,” by the Poor People’s Campaign. The organization, an advocate for low-income Americans, launched a nonpartisan voter registration drive ahead of the 2020 vote across 16 states.
The reason poor and low-income voters have traditionally participated in elections at lower rates “is not because they have no interest in politics, but because politics is not interested in them,” Poor People’s Campaign co-chairs Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis wrote in the foreword to the report released Friday.
“They do not hear their needs and demands from candidates or feel that their votes matter,” they added.
They are also less likely to vote because of illness, disability, transportation issues, and the rise of voter suppression laws — “all systemic barriers,” the authors added.
But the 2020 elections saw the highest voter turnout in U.S.history, including among poor and low-income voters, noted the study.
Of the 168 million Americans who voted last year, 59 million of them— 35% of the total — had an estimated annual household income of less than $50,000, classifying them as “poor” or low-income, the analysis found.
Where the margin of Biden’s victory was a squeaker-thin 3% or less, low-income Americans accounted for 34% to 45% of the voting population (Arizona 39.96%), Georgia (37.84%), Michigan (37.81%), Nevada (35.78%), North Carolina (43.67%), Pennsylvania (34.12%) and Wisconsin (39.80%), according to the study.
The low-income voters included large numbers of white Americans as well as people of color.
The figures “challenge ... the media-driven narrative that ... white low-income voters are the de facto base of the Republican Party and delivered Donald Trump into the White House” in 2016, wrote study author Shailly Gupta Barnes.
“The findings suggest that, rather than writing white low-income voters off, it is possible to build coalitions of low-income voters across race around a political agenda that centers the issues they have in common,” she added.
To keep the key segment of the population coming to the polls, however, lawmakers must support agendas that speak to those voters, the report concludes.
The Poor People’s Campaign also supports legislation to outlaw partisan gerrymandering, expand early voting, and establish a national automatic voter registration system.