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Why People in the United States Don't Vote

Personalincome.org

For much of Monday's presidential debate, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tone was wonky and policy-prescriptive. But she ended the night with a direct appeal to voters.

“I sure hope you will get out and vote as though your future depended on it, because I think it does,” she said in her closing statement. 

Both Clinton and her opponent, Donald Trump, think they can win this year’s election by “activating” a group of voters that usually stay away from the polls. For Clinton, that is the youth vote. For Trump, it’s low-income white people. These are two groups who don’t typically turnout on Election Day, but will potentially play a major role in determining this year’s race.

The question of who votes and who doesn’t affects every US election, but has taken on a special significance this year. While 2012 saw less than 55% of citizens vote, experts are anticipating an uptick in voting this year. 

Increased voter turnout in this election might not come from a strong sense of civic participation. While the stakes are at an all-time high — 74% of people believe it really matters who wins this election (compared to 50% in 2000) — voter satisfaction with the candidates is nearing an all-time low. Only 43% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans were very/fairly satisfied with their candidate, according to a study by Pew Research Center.

Learn More: Not Registered to Vote? We Can Help!

So why don’t people vote?

One theory is actually quite simple — that we think we’re too busy to go to the polls. This is especially true in midterm elections. In the 2014 midterm elections, 28% of registered voters did not vote because they were “too busy,” while 16% didn’t vote because they were not interested.

Voter turnout usually hovers 40% for midterms and 60% for general elections.

Read More: Read more: Why National Voter Registration Day Is So Incredibly Important

But voter apathy isn’t really to blame. Access to voting is. In many countries, like Sweden and Turkey, voter registration is automatic, and in many others, elections take place during the weekend. It’s no surprise that voter turnout surpasses 85% of the population in Sweden.

In contrast, the US ranked 31st out of 35 advanced economies throughout the world in terms of voter turnout in 2012.

Aside from being busy, many Americans have little faith that their vote matters. People are more likely to vote if they believe that their vote will help determine legislation.

This partially explains why older people are more likely to vote than younger people, according to research by Andrea Louise Campbell, author of the book "How Policies Make Citizens."

Year after year, the issues that affect older voters — such as retirement benefits and trade policy — are prioritized over issues that affect younger people and minorities, like student loan forgiveness and police violence. If Monday's debate is any indication, this trend may be going away in 2016.

Read More: In a Win for Democracy, Courts Strike Down Voter Laws Across the US

Perhaps the most important factors in determining who votes and who doesn’t are education and income levels. Poorer, less-educated Americans are far less likely to vote than their richer, better-educated counterparts, according to the Pew study.

Both Trump and Clinton believe they have the best shot at converting this large population of non-voters to their side. Whoever is more successful at reaching these Americans and increasing voter turnout will have a distinct advantage come November.