Barriers to voting exist for all types of voters

New FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll examines why many Americans don’t vote

The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, October 26, 2020

A new FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll examining voting behavior among U.S. citizens finds all types of voters, whether they rarely vote or almost always vote, report facing barriers to voting. The most common barrier is waiting in line for more than an hour.  Those who almost never vote are also more likely to feel that voting doesn’t matter because the system is too broken, or that nothing will change for them. After this poll was conducted, nearly 6,000 of the 8,327 total respondents were matched back to their voting history. These respondents, with known vote history, were featured in FiveThirtyEight’s analysis.

1. Those who rarely or never vote (voted in no more than one election, according to their vote history) are more likely to have lower incomes, to be young (under age 35), to have lower levels of educational attainment, and to say they are independent/don’t identify with either major political party.

  • These non-voters comprise 25% of the sample, compared to 31% who almost always vote, and 44% who sometimes vote.

2. All voters, regardless of vote history or frequency, report experiencing barriers to vote, including waiting in long lines and being unable to get off work.

  • The most common barrier is waiting in line to vote for more than an hour. Those who only vote some of the time were the most likely group to report facing this issue.
  • Those who rarely or never vote are more likely than other voters to say they couldn’t get off work to vote, missed the voter registration deadline, and couldn’t find or access their polling place.
  • Black and Hispanic voters are also more likely to report standing in line for more than an hour or being unable to get off work.

3. While voters are supportive of efforts to make voting easier, some are skeptical that it will make a difference.

  • Just over half of respondents believe making Election Day a national holiday would get more people to vote in national elections. A similar number believe the ability to vote in person before Election Day would also help.
  • For those who only sometimes or rarely vote, the most common reasons are because they didn’t like any of the candidates or believe that “no matter who wins, nothing will change for people like me.” Around one in four non-voters also believe the system is too broken to be fixed by voting.

About the Study

This FiveThirtyEight_Ipsos Non-voter poll was conducted September 15th to September 25th, 2020 by Ipsos using our KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of adults in the U.S. with oversamples of young adults (18 to 29 years old), non-Hispanic Black and African Americans, and Hispanic and Latino Americans. All general population respondents were screened for U.S. citizenship and the survey was completed by 8,327 U.S. citizens age 18 or older.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, the largest and most well-established online probability-based panel that is representative of the adult US population. Our recruitment process employs a scientifically developed addressed-based sampling methodology using the latest Delivery Sequence File of the USPS – a database with full coverage of all delivery points in the US. Households are randomly sampled from all available households in the U.S. All persons in selected households are invited to join and participate in KnowledgePanel. Ipsos provides selected households that do not already have internet access a tablet and internet connection at no cost to them. Those who join the panel and who are selected to participate in a survey are sent a unique password-protected log-in used to complete surveys online. As a result of our recruitment and sampling methods, samples from KnowledgePanel cover all households regardless of their phone or internet status and findings can be reported with a margin of sampling error and projected to the general population.

The study was conducted in English and Spanish. The data for citizens were weighted to adjust for gender by age by race/ethnicity, education by race/ethnicity, Census region by metropolitan status, household income, language proficiency, and Hispanic origin. The demographic weighting benchmarks for U.S. citizens are from the 2019 March supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). The weighting categories were as follows:

  • Gender (Male and Female) by Age (18-29, 30-44, 45-59, 60+) by Race-Ethnicity (Non-Hispanic White alone, Non-Hispanic Black alone, Non-Hispanic Other and 2+ Races, Hispanic)
  • Census Region (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West) by Metropolitan Status (Metro and Non-Metro)
  • Education (Less than High School, High School, Some College, Bachelor or higher) by Race-Ethnicity (Non-Hispanic White alone, Non-Hispanic Black alone, Non-Hispanic Other and 2+ Races, Hispanic)
  • Household Income (under $25K, $25-$49,999, $50K-$74,999, $75K-$99,999, $100K-$149,999, $150K and over)
  • Language Proficiency (English Proficient Hispanic, Bilingual Hispanic, Spanish Proficient Hispanic, Non-Hispanic)
  • Hispanic Origin (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Other Hispanic origin, Non-Hispanic) 

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults. The margin of sampling error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.12. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples. In our reporting of the findings, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%. In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total substantially more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest market research company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

ISIN code FR0000073298, Reuters ISOS.PA, Bloomberg IPS:FP


The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs