Here's Why Nonvoters Say They Stayed Home In The Midterms

Most Americans who missed out on Election Day now say they regret it.
2018 saw unusually high turnout for a midterm election, but millions of eligible voters still stayed home.
2018 saw unusually high turnout for a midterm election, but millions of eligible voters still stayed home.

Many Americans who didn’t vote in this year’s midterm elections say they opted out due to a dislike of politics or a feeling their vote wouldn’t matter, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

Although turnout in this year’s midterms was higher than it’s been in a century, about half the voting-eligible public didn’t turn out. Nonvoters span every conceivable demographic group but tend to skew younger, poorer and less white than those who do turn out.

As a group, nonvoters also tend to be generally disengaged from public affairs and cynical about the government and their own roles in civic life. Nearly half of nonvoters in the most recent election said their personal dislike of politics played at least a minor role in their decision not to vote, according to Pew, with 44 percent saying they didn’t think their vote would make a difference and 41 percent saying that voting was inconvenient. (Nonvoters could select multiple reasons they didn’t vote.)

Three in 10 nonvoters said they weren’t registered or eligible to vote, 35 percent said they didn’t care who won the congressional elections and 22 percent said they’d forgotten to vote.

A 61 percent majority of the nonvoters said they wished they had voted, with the remaining 38 percent saying they had no regrets. (There may be some element of social desirability involved ― people know that participating in elections is generally considered a key part of good citizenship. People who answer surveys also tend to be more politically active on average, although pollsters try to correct for this.) 

Americans who did turn out in the latest elections mostly found the process to be relatively painless: About three-quarters of self-reported voters said that voting was very easy, with 16 percent calling it somewhat easy and only 8 percent calling it somewhat or very difficult.

But voting experiences varied, in some cases along racial lines. Half of white Americans who cast a ballot in-person said they didn’t have to wait in line at all to vote, compared to 43 percent of black voters and 39 percent of Hispanic voters.

Twenty-seven percent of voters under age 25 said it was their first time voting in an election, as did 12 percent of Hispanic voters.

Pew surveyed 10,640 adults online between Nov. 7 and Nov. 16, including 1,767 nonvoters. More information about the methodology is available here.