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California Voter Participation Survey

Survey Summary Report

 

 

Results from a survey of 2,145 infrequent voters and nonvoters in California reveal some of the barriers and motivations to voting among two distinct groups.

Detailed Findings

Right Direction Versus Wrong Track

When asked whether California is going in the right direction or is off on the wrong track, the more frequently the respondent votes, the more likely they are to say the state is going in the right direction. While the majority of frequent voters (53%) say the state is going in the right direction, and only 13% say they don’t know, only 40% of nonvoters say the state is going in the right direction, and 23%—almost double the amount for nonvoters—say they don’t know.

Right Direction / Wrong Track

Right Direction

Wrong Track

Don’t Know

Nonvoters

40

37

23

Infrequent voters

50

33

17

Frequent voters

53

34

13

 

Importance of Voting

Nonvoters are much more likely to say that voting is not that important. While 77% of infrequent voters say that voting is extremely or very important, only 47% of nonvoters agree. Conversely, more than one in four (26%) of nonvoters say that voting is not so important or not at all important, compared to just 3% of infrequent voters.

Importance of Voting

Infrequent Voters

Nonvoters

Extremely important

28

22

Very important

49

25

Moderately important

19

26

Not so important

2

13

Not at all important

1

13

 

Most Important Reasons for Not Voting

Being busy is the most cited reason for not voting for both infrequent voters and nonvoters. 28% of infrequent voters and 23% of nonvoters said that being too busy to vote was their most important reason for not voting or registering to vote. Lack of quality candidates was a main reason for both groups as well (20% for infrequent voters and 10% for nonvoters). The difficulty in getting the information necessary to vote was also a major reason for infrequent voters (9%), while the belief that voting does not make a difference was more significant for nonvoters (10%).

Most Important Reasons for Not Voting or Registering to Vote (nonvoters)

Infrequent Voters

Nonvoters

I am too busy to vote

28

23

There are no candidates that I believe in

20

10

It’s too hard to get all the information I need to vote

9

5

There are no issues that affect me

6

2

I don’t remember to vote / I don’t remember how or where to register to vote

6

7

Voting doesn’t make a difference

3

10

Too many issues on the ballot

2

3

My polling place moves constantly

1

N/A

 

Barriers in the Voting Process

The logistical components of the voting process were described by infrequent voters as relatively easy, compared to the information-related components. Both gathering necessary information, and reading and understanding the ballot pamphlet were cited by one in five infrequent voters as “difficult”.

Although the logistical steps to vote were less challenging than the information-related parts, finding their polling place was still a problem for some voters, with 7% saying it was difficult.

Voting Process (Infrequent Voters)

Very Easy

Somewhat Easy

Difficult

Don’t Know / Haven’t Done

Reading and understanding the voter information pamphlet

42

35

20

3

Getting the information necessary to make your voting decision

48

29

20

3

Finding your polling place

75

15

7

3

Voting by absentee ballot

33

9

6

52

Voting at your polling place

76

14

5

5

Registering to vote

80

16

3

1

 

More than half of voters (52%) said they had never voted absentee, or didn’t know whether it was easy or hard. The majority of those who had voted absentee said that it was easy (42 of the 48% said easy), but a significant minority (6%) said it was difficult.

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The following chart reports the results of only those who gave an easy or difficult rating for these questions. This excludes those who said they had never done the activity, or that they did not know. Of these respondents, 13% said voting by absentee ballot was difficult compared to just 5% who said that voting at your polling place is difficult.

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Voting Attitudes and Experiences

In every question, we see that positive attitudes toward voting are more common among infrequent voters, while cynicism is more common among nonvoters.

Infrequent Voters

Infrequent voters generally feel fairly positive toward voting, see the importance of staying informed and recognize their civic duty and the opportunity to voice their opinions through voting. Further, infrequent voters like voting; believe that votes are counted accurately; and believe that it can make a difference in the outcome of elections.

Infrequent voters follow the news. More than four in five (82%) say that they follow the news when they get the chance. However, infrequent voters do not live their lives immersed in a pro-voting culture. Although 82% say their families vote in most or all elections, only 64% say their friends do, and 15%, or almost one in six, say that they do not know if their friends vote. This is likely attributable to the one in two (50%) whose friends hardly ever talk about politics. Further, although respondents’ families do vote, 40% of infrequent voters did not grow up in families where political issues and candidates were discussed.

Only 40 percent of infrequent voters said there was no one on the ballot that they wanted to vote for, and 79% disagree with the sentiment that not voting makes more of a statement than voting.

Nonvoters

Nonvoters are more likely than infrequent voters to disagree with every positive statement and more likely to agree with every negative statement toward voting.

Although less than infrequent voters, most nonvoters still believe in the conceptual motivations to vote: it’s important to stay informed; voting allows you to voice opinions and choose your representatives; and voting is an important part of being a good citizen.

However, nonvoters are significantly more cynical about their vote being counted accurately (26% think it won’t) and that voting makes a difference (35% think it doesn’t).

The disparity between infrequent voters and nonvoters may best be revealed in the simple assertion “I like to vote,” which 92% of infrequent voters, but only 48% of nonvoters agreed with.

Nonvoters are even less likely to be surrounded by a pro-voting culture. Three in five (62%, and 20% less than the infrequent voters) say they follow politics in the news when they have the chance. Only half say that their friends vote in most elections, with 15% saying they don’t know if their friends vote. A strong majority, 60%, say their friends hardly ever talk about politics. The family of nonvoters is similar, with less than half saying their parents discussed politics growing up, and only 62% saying their family votes in most elections.

The higher level of cynicism is evident in the two in five who say there is no one on the ballot they want to vote for, and 30% who believe they make more of a statement by not voting than voting (compared to only 16% for infrequent voters).

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Voting Experiences and Attitudes

Infrequent
Voters

Nonvoters

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

It is important to stay informed about political issues

96

3

87

12

Voting is an important part of being a good citizen

93

7

72

24

Voting is an important way to voice your opinions on issues that affect your family and your community

93

6

81

16

Poll workers are generally polite and helpful

92

3

N/A

N/A

I like to vote

92

7

48

41

I believe that when I vote, my vote will be counted accurately

89

9

70

26

Voting lets you choose who represents you in government

89

10

71

24

I believe that my vote makes a difference in the outcome of the election

85

14

63

35

My family votes in most or all elections

82

13

62

31

I am interested in politics and follow it in the news when I have the chance

82

17

62

36

My friends vote in most or all elections

64

21

50

35

Growing up, my family often discussed political issues and candidates

59

40

46

51

My friends hardly ever talk about politics

50

49

60

37

There is no one on the ballot that I want to vote for

33

59

40

47

I make more of a statement by not voting than I would if I voted

16

79

30

61

 

Most Important Reason to Vote

The most commonly named important reason to vote is expressing opinion and making one’s voice heard. Almost half (43%) of the infrequent voters and a third of the nonvoters cited it as their most important reason. Supporting a particular candidate is also named by a significant proportion of both groups, and one in ten nonvoters said the most important reason to vote is that you cannot complain unless you do.

Most Important Reason to Vote

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Make your voice heard / express your opinion

43

32

To support a particular candidate

24

19

Civic duty

9

9

To support a particular ballot issue

6

5

Can’t complain unless you vote

5

10

Something on ballot affects my family

3

2

People struggled for the right to vote

3

4

To oppose a particular candidate

2

3

Pressure from family & friends

1

1

Something on ballot affects pocketbook

1

2

To oppose a particular ballot issue

*

1

As long as people don’t vote, government will be controlled by corporations/special interests

*

1

*Less than one percent

Reasons People Don’t Vote

Most infrequent voters and nonvoters do not vote because they feel that politics are controlled by special interests, the candidates do not appeal to them, and trusted information is hard to find.

The top reason that both voters and nonvoters do not vote in every election is that politics are controlled by special interests. Two-thirds of both groups agreed that was a reason they personally do not vote in every election. Candidates not really speaking to them was also a popular reason.

The difficulty of sifting through all the information available to make good decisions on how to vote followed. A number of other reasons related to the difficulty of using available information to make good decisions followed: too busy; issues are too confusing; too many things on the ballot; too hard to get information necessary; and distrust of the information available.

Belief that voting does not make a difference was a less popular reason among both groups, and the logistical barriers (figuring out where to vote, using voting equipment, comfort in the polling place, and poll workers) were the least commonly cited barriers to voting. However, it is important to note that although these reasons were less frequently cited, they are still significant. One in ten (11%) infrequent voters said that difficulty in figuring out where to vote was a reason that they don’t vote in every election.

Almost two in five nonvoters (38%) and 22% of infrequent voters agreed that their skepticism about their vote being counted accurately was a reason that they do not vote or register to vote.

 

Reasons People Don’t Vote

Infrequent
 Voters

Nonvoters

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Politics are controlled by special interests

66

28

69

23

I don’t feel that candidates really speak to me

49

48

55

37

It is too hard to sift through all the information available to make good decisions on how to vote

45

54

52

42

I am too busy with work or my family

43

56

46

52

The issues are too confusing

42

57

48

48

There are just too many things on the ballot

37

61

44

44

I am just not interested in politics

29

70

45

53

It is too hard to get the information necessary to make my voting decision

25

75

34

61

I don’t trust any of the election information available

24

74

36

58

I don’t believe that my vote will actually be counted accurately

22

76

38

58

My vote doesn’t make a difference

20

79

39

59

The results of elections just don’t have any effect on me personally

19

80

29

68

It’s too hard to figure out where to vote

11

89

18

79

The voting equipment is difficult to use

9

88

13

61

Voting is an isolating and lonely experience

8

91

13

74

I’m not comfortable in my polling place

7

90

N/A

N/A

The poll workers are unfriendly or unhelpful

6

90

N/A

N/A

 

The Time Barrier

Respondents who said they are “too busy with work and family” were asked to further explain what underlies their time constraints. Long job hours were the most cited reason, with 42% of infrequent voters and one in three nonvoters citing it. About one in five of each group reported that voting itself takes too much time and about one in ten said that finding the information to vote takes too much time. Eight percent of infrequent voters and nine percent of nonvoters reported a lack of childcare as their main problem

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The Information Problem

The greatest problem with election information is that it is hard to understand, according to infrequent voters. Nonvoters feel that its untrustworthiness is just as much of a problem. Asked to choose between unavailable, hard to understand, and untrustworthy, 49% of infrequent voters and 39% of nonvoters said that being hard to understand was the greatest problem with information about elections. Information being untrustworthy was a greater problem with nonvoters (39%) than with infrequent voters (29%). Information being unavailable was named as the greatest problem by 9% of infrequent voters and 12% of nonvoters.

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Registering to Vote

Nonvoters were asked to respond to a series of questions about their history of registering to vote. A number of barriers to registering to vote were cited by nonvoters. One in three (32%) said that they do not know where to find voter registration forms. One in four says they don’t want to register because they don’t want to get called for jury duty, and the same proportion say that they don’t want to register because they want to make sure that their information remains private. Almost one in five (18%) said that they thought they were registered through the DMV.

Almost half (44%) say they have been registered at some point before and 30% say they have filled out a voter registration form. One in four says it is difficult to stay registered because they move around so much.

Registering to Vote (Nonvoters)

Agree

Disagree

Don’t Know

I know where to find voter registration forms

68

29

3

I have been registered before, but not at my current address.

44

53

3

I have filled out a voter registration form

30

66

4

I don’t want to register because I don’t want to get called for jury duty

24

73

3

I move around so frequently that it is difficult to stay registered

24

74

2

I don’t want to register because I want my information to be private

23

74

3

I thought I was registered through the DMV

18

76

6

 

Issues that Motivate People to Vote

Education and the economy are the top issues that motivate people to vote, regardless of whether they are an infrequent voter or a nonvoter. Health care is also motivating for infrequent voters, whereas government and leadership is a more motivating issue for nonvoters.

It should be noted that only 8% of infrequent voters say that nothing would motivate them to vote, while 17% of nonvoters say the same.

Issues That Motivate People To Vote

Infrequent Voters

Nonvoters

Education/Schools

20

17

The Economy

17

11

Health Care

12

7

Government/Leadership

12

13

War on Iraq

10

7

Taxes

9

6

War on Terrorism/National Security

6

5

The Budget

5

2

The Environment

4

2

Immigration

4

3

Crime and Public Safety

3

3

Cost of Living

3

4

Transportation, Roads and Freeways

1

1

Growth, Development and Land Usage

1

1

Housing

1

1

Nothing would motivate me to vote

8

17

 

Election Day Holiday

An Election Day holiday does not appear to have a significant effect on respondents. Nonvoters were somewhat more likely to say that it would make no difference in whether they vote (70%), compared to infrequent voters (64%). Of those who said they would be affected, slightly more respondents said that they would be more likely to vote than less likely to vote, but the overall increase in likelihood of voting was almost completely countered by those who said an Election Day holiday would make them less likely to vote.

Election Day Holiday

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

More likely to vote

20

16

No difference

64

70

Less likely to vote

15

12

 

Election Information Sources

Among infrequent voters, conversations with family were the most influential information source. Almost one in three said they were very influential, and two in three said they were moderately influential. TV news was next, with 28% finding network news very influential, and 27% for cable news. Next was the local newspaper in English, followed by conversations with friends, radio, the Internet, and alternative media.

Political campaign ads on TV were the most influential campaign communication, slightly more influential than endorsements. Other campaign communication were the least influential information sources, with mail, radio, phone and volunteers at your door in descending order.

Election Information Sources (Infrequent Voters)

Very Influential

Moderately Influential

Slightly Influential

Not At All Influential

Conversations with family

31

34

19

15

Cable TV news in English

28

32

18

21

Network TV news in English

27

37

20

15

Local newspaper in English

25

40

19

15

Conversations with friends

22

37

23

17

Talk radio

19

30

17

32

Local radio news

18

33

24

24

Internet

17

23

15

41

Alternative media

14

27

20

30

TV ads from a political campaign

13

25

25

36

Endorsements from community groups

11

30

25

30

Endorsements from public figures

11

24

26

36

Mail from a political campaign

10

23

26

40

Radio ads from a political campaign

9

23

25

42

Phone call from a political campaign

7

14

18

58

Volunteer at your door from a political campaign

6

15

21

53

 

Current Events Information Sources

Television remains the most common information source, with 47% of infrequent voters and 56% of nonvoters getting most of their information from television. Infrequent voters were more likely to get their information from newspapers, the Internet, or the radio (44%) than nonvoters (33%).

Current Events Information Sources

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Network TV

24

27

Cable TV

23

29

Newspaper

21

18

Internet

14

11

Radio

9

4

Conversations with friends

6

6

Alternative media

2

2

Demographics

Nonvoters are disproportionately young, single, less educated, and more likely to be of an ethnic minority. 40% of nonvoters are under 30 years old compared to 29% of infrequent voters. Infrequent voters are much more likely to be married than nonvoters, with 50% of infrequent voters married compared to only 34% of nonvoters. 76% of nonvoters have less than a college degree, compared to 61% of infrequent voters, and almost twice as many nonvoters have a high school degree or less compared to infrequent voters. 60% of infrequent voters are white or Caucasian compared to 54% of nonvoters.

Age

Nonvoters are the youngest group, with two in five under 30 years old and a strong majority (59%) under 40 years old. Frequent voters are the oldest, with only 14% under 30 and 28% under 40. Almost half of frequent voters are over 50, compared to just 23% of nonvoters. Put another way, nonvoters are three times as likely to be under 30 as are frequent voters, and frequent voters are three times as likely to be over 65.

Infrequent voters are also young (50% under 40 and only 26% over 50), but are less likely than nonvoters to be under 30.

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Ethnicity

Frequent voters are more likely to be white and less likely to be African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander (API), or Native American than are infrequent voters and nonvoters. While 23% of frequent voters are people of color (excluding mixed and other), 38% of nonvoters are people of color. Conversely, frequent voters are 70% white, compared to 60% of infrequent voters, and 54% of nonvoters.

Infrequent voters are more likely than nonvoters to be API, while nonvoters are more likely than infrequent voters to be African American or Latino.

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Education

One of the greatest differences in demographics between frequent voters, infrequent voters and nonvoters is education. More than two in five (41%) nonvoters are high school graduates or less, compared to only 22% of infrequent voters and 16% of frequent voters. By contrast, half of frequent voters have a college degree or more, compared to 36% of infrequent voters and only 21% of nonvoters. Frequent voters are almost four times as likely to have post-graduate degrees than nonvoters.

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Income

Nonvoters make less money than infrequent and frequent voters. One-third of nonvoters make less than $25,000 a year compared to 26% of infrequent voters and only 18% of frequent voters. By contrast, 28% of frequent voters make more than $75,000 dollars a year compared to only 14% of nonvoters.

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Employment and Transportation

Two in three (66%) infrequent voters and 60% of nonvoters work full-time or part-time. Nonvoters are more likely to be unemployed or retired (23% combined, compared to 16% combined for infrequent voters).

Employment

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Employed Full-Time

46

43

Employed Part-Time

13

12

Unemployed

8

11

Self-Employed

7

5

Homemaker

9

7

Student

7

8

Retired

8

12

 

Of those who work, more than half of infrequent voters and nonvoters work more than 40 hours per week, with only 9% working under 20 hours per week.

Hours worked per week

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Under 20 hours

9

9

20 to 30 hours

14

14

30 to 40 hours

21

21

40 to 50 hours

36

37

More than 50 hours

16

15

Nonvoters and infrequent voters have similar commute times. Of those who work, about half have a commute of under a half-hour; one in four has a commute of 30 minutes to an hour.

Average Length of Commute to Work

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Under 15 minutes

36

38

15 to 29 minutes

26

25

30 to 44 minutes

18

15

45 minutes to 59 minutes

8

7

1 to just under 2 hours

6

7

2 hours or more

2

2

Work at home / telecommute

3

3

Infrequent voters are more likely to drive a car to work (85% compared to 76% of nonvoters), while nonvoters are more likely to get a ride or use public transportation (13%, compared to 5% for infrequent voters). Almost one in four nonvoters does not have a drivers’ license.

Transportation to Work

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

I drive my own car

83

74

I borrow someone else’s car

2

2

I get a ride with a co-worker or friend

2

7

I use public transportation

3

6

I ride a bike or walk

6

6

 

Valid California Driver’s License (Nonvoters)

 

Yes

No

Valid California driver’s license

78

22

 

Homeownership, Marital Status, and Children

Infrequent voters are much more likely to be homeowners than nonvoters, with half of infrequent voters owning their home, compared to 35% of nonvoters. Nonvoters are more likely to rent (41%, compared to only a quarter of infrequent voters). One in five infrequent voters and nonvoters lives with their parents.

Home Ownership

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Own

51

35

Rent

25

41

Live with parents

20

20

Other

1

2

 

Half of infrequent voters are married, while only 34% of nonvoters are. Nonvoters are more likely to be single and divorced.

Marriage Status

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Married

50

34

Single

31

40

Partnered

5

8

Separated

1

3

Widowed

3

4

Divorced

7

9

 

Infrequent voters and nonvoters are more likely to have children at home than are frequent voters. Almost 40% of infrequent voters and nonvoters have children under age 18 living at home compared to 32% of frequent voters. Of those who have children, 69% of both infrequent voters and nonvoters have children in public schools.

Children under 18 living at home
 
Frequent voters
Infrequent voters
Nonvoters
Yes
32
39
38
No
67
59
60

Children enrolled in public schools
 
Infrequent voters
Nonvoters
Yes
69
69
No
31
31

 

Internet Access

Infrequent voters are more likely than nonvoters to have access to the Internet in their home and in their work. 82% of infrequent voters have access in their home or at work, compared to 68% of nonvoters. Nonvoters are more likely to have no access at all to the Internet, with 20% having no access compared to only 12% of infrequent voters.

Internet Access

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Home

43

36

Work

5

6

Both home and work

34

26

Somewhere else

3

9

Have no access

12

20

 

Ideology and Religion

Frequent voters are more likely to be conservative than infrequent voters or nonvoters, while nonvoters are more likely to be liberal. Nonvoters called themselves liberal (35%, compared to 30% of frequent voters) most frequently, while frequent voters called themselves conservative (37%, compared to 30% of nonvoters) most often. Infrequent voters were in the middle, evenly divided 32% liberal, 32% moderate. Nonvoters are much more likely to not know their ideology.

Ideology

Frequent voters

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Very Liberal

9

11

13

Somewhat Liberal

21

21

22

Moderate

30

29

25

Somewhat Conservative

21

22

20

Very Conservative

16

10

10

Don’t Know

2

4

8

 

There are no significant religious differences between infrequent voters and nonvoters. Infrequent voters and nonvoters are primarily Catholic and Protestant, with six to eight percent identifying with another religion, and one in five having no religious preference at all.

Religion

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Catholic

27

28

Protestant

38

40

Jewish

2

1

Muslim

1

1

Buddhist

3

2

Another Religion

2

2

No Religious Preference

20

21

 

However, nonvoters are more likely to never attend church, temple, or synagogue (35%, compared to 28% of infrequent voters, and 26% of frequent voters), while frequent voters are more likely to attend more than once a month (40%, compared to 37% of infrequent voters and 32% of nonvoters).

Church, Temple, Or Synagogue Attendance

 

Frequent voters

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

Never

26

28

35

Once a month or less

28

28

27

More than once a month

40

37

32

 

Party Registration

Infrequent voters are less likely than frequent voters to choose a party affiliation, and are more likely to decline to state their party preference or to affiliate with a minor party.

Click to enlarge

 

Interview Language

Interview Language

 

Infrequent voters

Nonvoters

English

92

97

Spanish

5

1

Cantonese

3

2

 

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This page was first published on April 7, 2005 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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