EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. – Like nearly half of all eligible voters in her county in 2016, Keyana Fedrick did not vote.
Four years later, politics permeated his corner of northeastern Pennsylvania. Someone sawed a hole in a large Trump sign near one of his jobs. His riding’s election office is so overwhelmed with the demand that it has taken over the neighboring coroner’s office. Her parents, both Democrats born in the 1950s, keep telling her that she should vote for Joseph R. Biden Jr. Anything is better than President Trump, they say.
But Ms Fedrick, who works two jobs, in a hotel and in a department store, doesn’t trust either of the two major political parties because nothing in her 31 years of life has made her believe she can. She says they abandon voters like “a bad mom or a bad dad who promises to come see you, and I’m sitting outside with my bags packed and they never show up.”
That’s why Ms. Fedrick does not regret her decision in 2016 to skip the voting booth. In fact, she plans to repeat it this year – something that she and a friend have started to hide from people they know.
“We said we were just going to lie, like ‘Oh yeah, I voted,’ she said. “I don’t want to be crucified for what I think.”
As the presidential campaign reaches its final week, turnout for early voting in a number of states has been higher than last time, requests for postal votes are on the rise and some are predicting turnout to be on the rise. higher for several decades. But if history is any indication, a significant portion of Americans will not participate, a sign of distrust and disillusionment with the political system that spans the partisan divide.
Voting is fundamentally an act of hope. But since the 1960s, between a third and half of eligible voters have stayed at home during the presidential elections, one of the lowest rates among developed countries in America. Since the early 1900s, the peak of presidential turnout has been in 1960, when 63.8% of eligible adults voted, according to the United States Elections Project which traces voting data to 1789. More recently, the highest peak was in 2008, when 61.6%. percent turned out.
Analysis of Census Bureau survey data from the 2016 election shows a deep class divide: Americans who did not vote were more likely to be poor, less likely to have a college degree, and more likely to be single parents than the people who voted. They were also less likely to be in the labor force.
The data gives a comprehensive overview of who voted and who didn’t, and while no two elections are the same, it does point to reasons why some people are more likely to vote than others. .
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Not voting has been a feature of the American political landscape for decades. But with extremely thin margins in a number of swing states the last time around, non-voters took on disproportionate importance: even a small victory in converting some of them can tip the scales.
Take Pennsylvania. More than 3.5 million eligible voters in the state did not vote for president in the 2016 election, a number that eclipsed Mr. Trump’s slim margin of 44,292. Monroe County, the Pocono Mountain vacation spot where Ms. Fedrick lives, is a microcosm of the state. About 56,000 eligible adults remained at home, more than 100 times Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory of 532 votes.
In interviews in Monroe County this month, some of those who did not vote in 2016 said they plan to vote this year. The stakes were too high to miss it, they said.
“I never thought it would bother me, but now it really matters,” said Jack Breglia, 49, retired tow truck driver in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania. He couldn’t remember the last time he voted, but said he plans to vote for Mr Trump this time.
But many others said they would not. They expressed deep distrust of politics and doubted their vote would have any effect. They sensed a hunch about the country and saw politics as one of the main threatening forces. Many were not particularly partisan and said they were withdrawing from people who were.
“I try to avoid it because it gets angry and mean,” said Susan Miller, 42, a waitress at Compton’s Pancake House in Stroudsburg, who said she voted once in her life for Barack Obama in 2008.
One predictor of political engagement is growing up in a family that talked about politics. Mrs. Miller did not. And she’s so sick of the one person in her life who loudly insists she vote – an aunt who supports Mr. Trump – that she just started pretending she would.
Like many of the people interviewed for this article, Ms. Miller scrambled to pay rent and do groceries. Monroe County’s unemployment rate was around 13% in August as the pandemic hit the county’s tourism industry. Her tips have been halved and she now works for Instacart to make up the difference. Two close relatives have died from Covid-19.
“Politics? That’s the least of my worries,” she said.
She said she would vote again “if the right person came”.
But Mr. Biden is not that person, she said. Ms Miller said she did not watch any of the debates or follow the candidates.
“I’m just trying to be successful,” she says.
In recent decades, wealthier and more educated people are much more likely to vote. In the 2016 analysis, about three-quarters of people living in households earning $ 150,000 or more voted, compared to less than half of those living in households earning less than $ 25,000. About 76% of college graduates voted, compared to 52% of those with only a high school diploma.
Marriage mattered too: barely 45% of single women who had children and were eligible to vote voted against 70% of married mothers.
Jennifer Martin, 46, a single mother queuing in her car at the Pleasant Valley Ecumenical Network’s pantry in Sciota, Pa., Said the last time she voted that she was 20. Politics, she said, didn’t matter much in her life. The two political parties looked pretty much the same.
A recent study found that people like Ms. Martin who don’t follow politics closely have different concerns than those who do. For example, they say low hourly wages are among the most important issues facing the country. For die-hard supporters, who are more likely to vote, the question is barely recorded.
“I work in a daycare where they don’t pay their employees anything,” she says. “That’s why I have to come to places like this to feed my family.”
Could the elections make a difference?
“I’m not interested,” she said.
Ms Fedrick was one of those who stayed on the sidelines in 2016, but not because she wasn’t keeping up with the news. She has become increasingly angry with the American political system, which she says is tilted against blacks like her and the poor.
She grew up in Newark, where failing schools and violent streets prompted her parents – an art teacher and a city bus driver – to move to East Stroudsburg at the age of 12.
College was a financial blow. She said she had tried twice for associate’s degrees, but hadn’t finished either. She ended up with a debt of $ 5,000. At 31, she still lives with her mother.
Her father, who grew up in rural Georgia in the 1960s, keeps telling her things have gotten better. Government can be reactive, even if it is slow. Voting counts.
She sees no evidence of progress. The minimum wage has been frozen for over a decade and the problems of police violence against blacks, unemployment and incarceration only appear to be getting worse.
“We have to break with the system,” she said. “This system was not designed for us to win.”
Only 47% of African Americans under 30 voted in 2016, compared with nearly 70% of those over 65, a pattern of youth disenchantment common to Americans of all races and ethnicities.
Many interviewees in Monroe County said they felt their vote didn’t matter, highlighting the contested 2000 presidential election and Mr. Trump’s loss of the popular vote. Some said they believed that powerful initiates were the ones who really made the decision.
“We love you and wish you good luck,” said Fannie Sanchez, 44, a New York-born daughter of Colombian immigrants, of voters. People who don’t vote “have already seen that there was something going on there. We simply disconnect. “
Ms. Sanchez is part of a demographic that also had a low turnout in 2016: American Hispanics. She said in 2008 that she had swallowed her cynicism and voted for the first time in her life, for Mr. Obama.
“I just had to close my eyes and say, ‘If that’s wrong, I don’t care. I want to be a part of this. ”
But she no longer voted for him. Politicians are loud, but ultimately unnecessary.
“They rent space in my brain and they frustrate me, but in the end, they do whatever they want anyway,” she says.
The sheer toxicity of politics also has an effect. Kyle Marsh, 23, operations manager for a beer wholesaler, isn’t particularly political, but most around him are. His mother, a nurse, is furious with Mr. Trump. His friends are also angry. Recently on Instagram we said, “Imagine being stupid enough to vote for the worst person in history?” The message made him uncomfortable: he has a friend who loves Mr. Trump. But he was silent.
“Do you know how many friends I would lose if I said something?” he said. To vote is to be part of the outrage. That is why he will withdraw.
Others see a reason to vote this time. Latoya Garrison, a single mother who works nights at a factory putting security seals on cosmetics, did not vote in 2016. But the coronavirus has changed her mind this time. Her Roasted Tomato waitress tips fell to $ 30 a day, and this fall, a social service agency helped pay her rent.
“I’m looking for who is most in control of this virus, so that we can get back to normal,” she said. “I don’t care about anything else.”
Last week, she voted by mail for Mr Biden.