30/30/40 Nation

More here. The short story: nonvoters have different attitudes, on average, compared to voters. When lots of people don’t vote, this affects political discourse:

An example is health policy. As my colleagues and I have found in our analysis of national survey data, attitudes on health care reform vary mostly not by where you live but by who you are. Older and richer Americans solidly opposed universal coverage for the uninsured, while younger adults, middle-income and below — who turn out to vote at much lower levels — were much more supportive of such a policy.

Well-educated rich middle-aged whites (e.g., myself) vote at something like a 90% rate in presidential elections. I’m guessing that if you consider the fraction of the population that has lots of money in mortgages or the stock market, most of these people vote, and many of them contribute financially to election campaigns.

And, unsurprisingly, when housing prices fell and the stock market was crashing in 2008, that was considered by the government and the media to be a crisis that needed immediate attention. Both parties felt the need to respond right away, as votes obviously hung in the balance.

On the other hand, economic concerns that hit nonvoters and noncontributors get slower responses. When you get big gaps in voter turnout, you get big gaps in political representation — and millions of voices go unheard.

6 Responses to 30/30/40 Nation

  1. Hmmmmm November 8, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    a pie chart? I think I read something somewhere about not using those:


  2. reflectionephemeral November 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Here’s a chart from Gilens on which policy is chosen when income groups’ views diverge:

    Here’s one from Jacobs & King on responsiveness of senators by party to income group:

    Seems to me that voting is not the predominant way that those results come about.

  3. Andrew Gelman November 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Amazingly enough, in this example I think the pie chart is the best display.

  4. Alex November 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    “When you get big gaps in voter turnout, you get big gaps in political representation — and millions of voices go unheard.”

    This would imply that this would be remedied in countries with compulsory elections. Is that the case?

  5. will November 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    how many non voters were actually eligible to vote?

    • Andrew Gelman November 8, 2012 at 6:20 pm #


      The 40% is among eligible voters.