The Poor Are Less Likely to Vote than the Rich, and that Hurts Democrats

Financial security is strongly correlated with nearly every measure of political engagement.

A sign points to the early voting station setup at the Government building on October 28, 2014 in Miami, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The richer you are, the more likely you are to vote, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center that reflects turnout challenges faced by Democrats.

The study also quantifies a truism of modern American politics: the rich generally vote Republican and the poor typically go for Democrats, if at all.

"Financial security is strongly correlated with nearly every measure of political engagement," the study found. In 2014, virtually all of the most financially secure Americans (94 percent) said they were registered to vote, while only about half (54 percent) of the least financially secure were.

That pattern follows through to those most likely to vote, with Pew estimates prior to the 2014 midterm election showing 63 percent of the most financially secure as likely voters, compared with just 20 percent of the least financially secure.


Pew Research Center

"Even among the individuals in this group who say they would prefer a Democratic candidate for a congressional election, most of them are not going to show up to a vote," said Scott Keeter, Pew's director of survey research and the report’s lead author. "Democrats have turnout challenges."

The Washington-based, non-partisan research organization found that the Democratic Party left far more potential votes "on the table" than Republicans in 2014. Among those in the least financially secure category, more than twice as many favored a Democratic candidate over a Republican one (42 percent to 17 percent). But just 12 percent of this least-secure group favored the Democrat and was also likely to vote.

The Democratic turnout challenges are most severe in midterm contests, when the electorate tends to be older and whiter than in presidential elections. Those groups have tended to favor Republicans in recent history.

Pew's study is based on interviews with 3,154 adults conducted from Sept. 9 to Oct. 3 that included detailed questions about economic security and insecurity, including measures of financial hardship (such as having difficulty paying bills and receiving means-tested government benefits), as well as financial assets and tools (such as having credit cards, bank accounts and retirement savings). Pew used those measures to create an index of financial security.

Financially insecure Americans are also far less likely than those at the top to be politically engaged in general, with just 14 percent saying they'd contacted an elected official in the last two years, compared to 42 percent among the most secure. When it comes to overall awareness of the political landscape, 61 percent of the most financially secure Americans could correctly identify the parties in control of both the House and Senate, compared with just 26 percent among the least financially secure, the study found. 

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