Number Of Voters Drops About 20 Percent During Midterm Elections

17 hours ago
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, as we said, there is no doubt that all of the ladies we just heard from will be voting. But, as we also mentioned, historically, most people do not vote in the midterms, like the people we met at a Pennsylvania factory recently.

ZERICK HUDSON: No, I never got into politics. I never really - no.

KELBY OCHS: I tune it out, I guess. I don't know. Politics just ain't my thing. I'm not a politician.

MARTIN: Those were the voices of Zerick Hudson (ph) and Kelby Ochs (ph). NPR's Don Gonyea has been covering the voters and nonvoters ahead of the election. And he's with us now from Bucks County, Pa., which is at the heart of one of the most costly and contested congressional races in the country. Hi, Don. Thanks so much for joining us...

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So we have focused a lot on voters, but what are the numbers? How many people actually stay home during the midterms?

GONYEA: Well, let's use big round numbers, right? About 60 percent of people tend to vote in presidential year elections so 6 out of 10. In midterm elections, it drops to about 4 in 10 so 40 percent. Fluctuations up and down any given election but that 20-point gap tends to be really solid and really consistent - persistent, let's say.

MARTIN: And are there consistent - or persistent - trends about who tends to come out and who tends not to?

GONYEA: Yeah. The rule of thumb you can use is the older someone is, the more likely they are to vote. Young people under 30 - it tends to be only about 1 in 4 have voted in, you know, recent - keeping score. So that's even lower than that 40 percent. Education level makes the difference. College-educated votes more than people with high school education or less. And then, income levels, which are related to those two things I just mentioned, also are a predictor. The higher the income, the more likely it is - a person is to vote.

MARTIN: So you've described life circumstances, right? You've described people whose - it's just not a part of their life. But do people give reasons why they say they don't vote? Or are there reasons why it is that these particular groups tend not to come out?

GONYEA: I've been asking that very question in places like West Virginia, which has, perhaps, the lowest voter turnout in the country, and Rhode Island, where it's low but not at the bottom, and in other places. And I hear so many people echo the tape that you just played. I just don't pay attention. I'm just not interested. I am blissfully unaware of all of that. I have people tell me that. I also have people, you know, more cynically tell me my vote doesn't matter. And then, you hear people say it doesn't matter who we elect. None of them are addressing our needs anyway.

MARTIN: So is there an effort being made to turn these nonvoters into voters?

GONYEA: So most of the money being spent by campaigns and by parties is about identifying voters, people who have supported either party, you know, in the past and that you can make sure that they are motivated to get out to vote this time. When I go canvassing with people, they're knocking on doors of folks who they know are registered to their party. And they know how often they voted, which is not to say there aren't broader messages when you get to someone like Donald Trump - you know? - on the stump, talking about the need to not be complacent. But most of the work that you see on the ground being done by campaigns and by parties is identifying their voters and making sure they turn out.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Bucks County, Pa. Don, thank you.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.