Tag Archives: senate

Voter Suppression in the 2014 Midterm

Political scientist Michael P. McDonald recently released  preliminary turnout rates at the state (and national) level. These data are preliminary and will be continuously updated, but still yield some insights.

Firstly, we can look at the impact of felon disenfrachisement.

Research finds that felon disenfranchisement laws have influenced the outcomes of both presidential and Senate elections. Such laws disenfranchised almost 6 millions voters this year—most of them poor and people of color.

Just look at seven key Senate races and one gubernatorial race (Florida, where Rick Scott tightened felon re-enfranchisement laws in one of his first acts as governor) in the most recent elections. In three of those Senate races and the gubernatorial election, the number of disenfranchised felons was greater than the margin of victory. Not only does felon disenfranchisement contribute to the class and race bias in the electorate by primarilyimpacting low income people and people of color, it often disenfranchises more voters than the margin of victory.

Secondly, we can compare states with voter ID laws to those without.

Obviously, there are many other factors here. The states that tend to pass voter ID laws are a self-selected group. They tend to have more competitive elections and recent increases in turnout among low-income voters and African-Americans.

They are also almost all passed by Republican legislatures, reducing turnout. Recently, the GAO examined voter ID laws and finds that out of ten studies, five had mixed results, four showed a statistically significant drop in voter turnout and one showed an increase in voter turnout. GAO finds that turnout decreased between 1.9 and 2.2 percentage point in Kansas and 2.2 to 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee.

For this year’s midterm, comparing McDonald’s turnout estimates with states with photo ID, non-photo ID and no ID law at all shows that on average, states with a photo ID law had 4.4 percentage points lower turnout than those that did not. States with a non-photo ID law also had lower voter turnout, about 1.52 points lower than states without voter ID. There are numerous factors at work here, but given Silver’s findings, the GAO review and anecdotal evidence at polling stations, it is plausible voter ID depressed turnout.

Given that voter ID laws are generally passed in states with competitive races, we would expect to see higher turnout (election competiveness boosts turnout)—instead we see the opposite. The Brennan Center has collected all of the studies on voter turnout here.

Third, we can examine the impact of same-day registration.

Research suggests that same-day registration reduces the class bias of the electorate. Previous Demos research finds that when same-day registration is available, hundreds of thousands of voters use it. Demos also finds that states with same-day registration consistently have higher levels of turnout than states without it. Numerous studies confirmthat SDR increases turnout.

And this was true in the 2014 midterms. States with SDR had turnout 7.92 points higher than states without SDR. This is likely a combination of factors, including the fact that states committed to turnout generally pass many reforms which work together to boost turnout.

Above all, turnout for the most recent election was dismal: 36.6%. That compares with 40.9% in 2010 and 40.4% in 2006. It’s the lowest of the last five elections. That’s why states should consider same-day registration, early voting, mail-in voting, felon re-enfranchisement and other laws that will get millions of voters to the polls next election.

This post originally appeared on Policyshop

Class Bias in the 2014 Midterms

In my recent Explainer, I discussed the implications of the voting gap on policy and elections. Numerous studies show that in states where low-income voters turnout at a higher rate, inequality is lower. That is because in these chambers, policymakers tend to be more liberal and favorable to policies to decrease economic inequality. Low-income turnout has been linked to higher social spending, more generous state health insurance programs for children, higher minimum wages and strong anti-predatory lending policies. In 2008 the gap between high and low income voters was 32.6 percent, and that this gap increased by 2.3 points to 34.6 in the 2010 midterm election.

While the Census data available later will allow for a more thorough analysis, exit polling can give us an idea about turnout bias.

I used the Wall Street Journal exit data to examine the share of voters earning less than $50,000 (36%), between $50,000 and $100,000 (34%) and more than $100,000 (30%). I compared this with 2013 Census data showing the share of households in each of these groups. The data show that those earning less than $50,000 were strongly under-represented, while those earning more than $100,000 were overrepresented. The differences are strong—enough to have shaped many of the elections on Tuesday.

This is important—numerous studies find that the wealthy are far more opposed to redistribution, government spending and higher minimum wages than the rest of the population. The opinions of wealthy Americans finds that wealthy Democrats tend to be more conservative than other Democrats. Increased turnout among low income voters would change the behavior of both political parties.

There was another important voting gap this year—between whites and people of color. Studies find persistent gaps between non-white and white voters, although African Americans have closed that gap in recent elections. In 2014, people of color were far less likely to turnout to the polls than whites. I again used data from the Wall Street Journal and the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau data from 2012 allow us to examine the racial breakdown of the Voting Eligible population (citizens over 18).

The chart below shows that people of color were underrepresented in turnout for midterms. It is likely that their underrepresentation was even wider than the chart shows, since their share of the voting eligible population has increased since 2012.

These gaps can’t only be chocked up to an enthusiasm gap. There were policies in place explicitly aimed at suppressing low-income voters, young voters and voters of color.

Before the race, many states are currently purged their voter rolls; primarily affect people of color and the poor. Since 2006, 34 states have passed some form of voter ID law. Voter ID laws have a disproportionate impact on the young, people of color and low income voters. Further, these laws are explicitly aimed at reducing low-income turnout. One studyon the motivations of voter ID laws finds that, “larger increases in class-biased turnout, indicating higher turnout among lower income voters relative to wealthy voters, is significantly associated with a larger volume of proposed legislative changes.”

That is, when low income voters turnout at a higher rate, Republicans are more likely to propose voter ID laws. One study finds that the indirect costs of these laws—transportation, lost work time and the cost of acquiring the relevant documents – are higher than poll taxes were at the times they were instituted.

Additionally, states across the country have reduced early and weekend voting, both of which are necessary for low-wage workers who often cannot get off of work to vote (often due to unpredictable schedules). Further, felony disenfranchisement laws, which haveinfluenced the outcome of both presidential and Senate elections will disenfranchise almost 6 millions voters this year—most of them poor and people of color. If these turnout gaps were eliminated it would significantly change policy. State should encourage voting with Same-Day Registration, not discourage it through voting and registration impediments.

This article originally appeared on Policyshop.

The 1% are more likely to vote than the poor or the middle class, and it matters — a lot

Does it matter that the wealthy turnout to vote at a rate of almost 99% while those making below $10,000 vote at a rate of 49%? It sure seems like it would, but for a long time many political scientists and journalists believed it didn’t. In their seminal 1980 study on the question (using data from 1972) Raymond Wolfinger and Steven Rosenstone argued that, “voters are virtually a carbon copy of the citizen population.” In a 1999 study, Wolfinger and Benjamin  Highton find a slightly larger gap between voters and nonvoters, but stillconclude, “non-voters appear well represented by those who vote.”

This argument has been largely assimilated by pundits and also non-voters, 59% of whom believe “nothing ever gets done,” and 41% of whom say “my vote doesn’t make a difference anyway.”

But more recent research suggests that the logic of wealth voters is sound — and that if the poor and middle class turned out at a higher rate, policy would shift leftward on economic policy. The most importantstudy on the question is by Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler. They revisit the Wolfinger/Rosenstone thesis and find that, in fact, non-voters are not, “a carbon copy” of the voting electorate as previously assumed. They find that, “notable demographic, economic, and political changes that have occurred in the U.S. since Wolfinger and Rosenstone’s classic statement [their 1980 book, “Who Votes”].” The most important difference that Leighley and Nagler find is that:

After 1972, voters and non-voters differ significantly on most issues relating to the role of government in redistributive policies. In addition to these differences being evident in nearly every election since 1972, we also note that the nature of the electoral bias is clear as well: voters are substantially more conservative than non-voters on class-based issues.


That is, after the New Deal consensus eroded, policy views became more polarized along class lines and the class-skewed nature of the electorate began to matter considerably. Non-voters skew left on a variety of issues:

A Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) study of Californians from 2006 finds that non-voters are more likely to support higher taxes and more services. They are also more likely to oppose Proposition 13 (a constitutional amendment which limits property taxes) and to support affordable housing (a more recent study finds similarly). More recently, a 2012 Pew study that examined likely voters and non-voters finds a strong partisan difference. While likely voters in the 2012 presidential election split 47% in favor of Obama and 47% in favor of Romney, 59% of non-voters supported Obama and only 24% supported Romney. The study also found divergence on other key policy issues, including healthcare, progressive taxation and the role of government in society.

The ideological turnout gap seems strongly related to the economic divide in voting behavior. A recent study by William Franko, Christopher Witko and Nathan Kelly examined 30 years of data for all 50 states. They find no instances in which low-income voter turnout was higher than high-income voter turnout. Across midterm and presidential elections, Census data show strong gaps between turnout rates between those earning above $150k and those earning less than $10k (a 32.6 point gap in 2008, a 34.9 point gap in 2010).

There is evidence that this affects the political system. Consider a recent study by David Broockman and Christopher Skovron finds that politicians believe that their constituencies are significantly more conservative than they are. Such a bias should be impossible to sustain – politicians have strong electoral incentives to gauge their constitutents’ views correctly. Once we understand that voters are more conservative than non-voters, the puzzle disappears. Politicians’s real constituents are the people who vote — a disproportionately affluent and conservative slice of the population.

Conversely, where the electorate is less skewed policy outcomes shift left. In a recent study William Franko, Nathan J. Kelly and Christopher Witko find that “where the poor exercise their voice more in the voting booth relative to higher income groups, inequality is lower.” In another study, Franko examined voting gaps and policy outcomes in three areas–minimum wages, anti-predatory lending laws and SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). He finds that states with smaller voting gaps across incomes had policies more favorable to the poor. States with low turnout inequality have a higher minimum wage, stricter lending laws and more generous health benefits than those with high turnout inequality.

The design and benefit levels of  many social safety net programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), are decided at the state level, which provides a natural experiment to test how turnout inequality  affects policy. James Avery and Mark Peffley find that, in states with higher rates of low-income voting, politicians were less inclined to pass restrictive eligibility rules for social benefits. Political scientists Kim Hill and Jan Leighley find in two studies that states with a more pronounced turnout bias, social welfare spending is lower. Thus, the evidence confirms what theory would predict: closing low-income voting gaps is consequential for public policy, in favor of lower-income households.

This piece originally appeared on Vox.

Control of the Senate will be decided by 1.5% of the population

The Senate is a profoundly undemocratic institution. Because representation is apportioned by state, people in California (pop: 38.3 million) has the same number of representatives as Wyoming (pop: 582,658). California has one Senator for every 19.5 million people, while Wyoming has one for every 291,329 people. This leads to all sorts of distortions, since the mostly conservative, rural middle states have a stronger influence on policy than metropolitan areas. Dylan Matthews calculates that you can get a majority in the Senate using only senators representing 17.82% of the population. Adam Liptak writes that the political implication of this bias: 

Beyond influencing government spending, these shifts generally benefit conservative causes and hurt liberal ones. When small states block or shape legislation backed by senators representing a majority of Americans, most of the senators on the winning side tend to be Republicans, because Republicans disproportionately live in small states and Democrats, especially African-Americans and Latinos, are more likely to live in large states like California, New York, Florida and Illinois. Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.

The upcoming midterm election gives us a great example of how profoundly undemocratic the Senate is. Assuming the Republicans hold the seats they have, they can gain a majority by picking up Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Those six states represent 3.7% of the U.S. population.  But not everyone votes. I pulled up the 2010 Census data (Table 4C) and ran some calculations. Let’s assume that turnout is the same and that these states still have roughly the same share of the population. If that’s true, the Senate will be be decided by 4.8% of voters, 2% of the U.S. Voting Eligible Population (VEP)* and 1.5% of the total population of the United States. Democracy.

Here’s my calculations:


* Citizens over 18.