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What is Voter Apathy & How Reachouts Can Beat Turnout Fears 

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Published: Apr 30, 2024

Across the globe, citizens are increasingly disenchanted with the political process, opting for silence over the ballot box. This voter apathy poses a fundamental challenge to the vitality of democratic societies, undermining the very essence of representative governance. And this has been a rising and crippling issue in the US. 

Tackling voter apathy demands more than mere rhetoric –  it requires a concerted effort to dismantle barriers, foster education, and cultivate a culture of active citizenship. In this article, we explore the reasons why voter apathy is so rampant and the strategies to breathe new life into the electoral process.

Read More: How to Increase Voter Turnout in Your Next Election (With Research-Backed Strategies!)

What is voter apathy?

Voter apathy is a lack of interest or motivation among eligible voters to participate in elections. This disengagement can weaken the democratic process because it means fewer voices are heard, and decisions might not reflect the true desires of the population.

Though voter apathy affects all kinds of voters – each segment feels this lack of motivation for different and unique reasons. For example, middle-class individuals may feel disenchanted with politics due to a perceived lack of representation or responsiveness to their concerns. 

They might believe that politicians cater more to wealthy interests or focus primarily on issues that don’t directly affect their daily lives. This sense of disconnect can lead to feelings of frustration and disengagement from the electoral process.

Read More: What Affects Voter Turnout? The 8 Most Influential Factors

Causes of voter apathy

The US Census conducted a study after the 2022 midterm elections, which we will refer to several times in this article. One aspect of that survey was to see who was most likely to vote.

The answer is a married homeowner who has been staying in the same place for over five years. There are additional bumps if the voter happens to be a native-born citizen, a veteran, or not from the US South. 

One simple answer for voter apathy is: How many Americans do not fit that description? That’s the percentage of voters less likely to vote. For example, slightly less than 50% of Americans are not married, and voter turnout in 2022 was 48%.  

Correlation is not causation, but the point is that social and economic factors play a central role in voter apathy sentiment. The less invested you are in the socioeconomic conditions around you, the less likely you are to vote. 

Here are several other major aside from those: 

Distrust in government

Voter apathy is often seen as disinterest in voting. But it can also be the government’s disinterest in the the voter (real or perceived). 

According to a study by Public.Org, “We found virtually no evidence that apathy is driving (non) voting behavior. Instead, nonvoters choose not to vote because they are frustrated and disappointed with the existing system and the lack of trust, transparency, and accountability that defines it in their eyes.”

Voter Apathy by the numbers

Source: Pew Research

To summarize: Voter apathy is at least partly fueled by the people having no trust that their elected government will actually work for them. And hence, they do not vote. 

Lack of political efficacy

Political efficacy is the belief that your vote can actually bring about real change to the political system. Americans report a massive lack of this fundamental belief about how voting and the electoral system work. 

Voter Apathy by the numbers

Source: Pew survey

With such numbers, it is hardly surprising that many voters feel there is simply no point in voting since they don’t feel they are making any difference at all. 

Barriers to Voting

In the US, voting is not overseen by any unified federal institution, nor is polling conducted by a single organization. Left up to local bodies and the states, a variety of ‘friction points’ lead to voter apathy in the US. 

A study by the Carnegie Corporation of New York lists some of the major barriers to voting – 

Voter ID requirements: While it may seem like requiring an ID to vote is not a major issue, since there is no universal federal voting ID, every state or local body can place different requirements on what the ID needs to have. Issues like having a street address, a photo, a driver’s license, etc., reduce the number of voters who can vote. 

Polling booths: Again, the lack of a unified system to run polling booths means there is a lack of available booths to vote, or they may be too far away from voters, or they may only be open for a short period of time, and run by poorly trained volunteers. All of this adds up to a frustrating voting experience, reducing the number of voters. 

Reducing the means to vote: Many voters cannot spend an entire day to cast their vote – especially since voting day is not a compulsory work holiday. And it has been observed that voting takes longer in some of America’s poorest districts – which can least afford missing work. 

Therefore alternate means to vote – early voting, mail-in ballots, etc. become crucial to increasing voter turnout. However, these efforts are faltering in the US or are hampered by partisan election officials who favor their own party over universal voting.  

While these are just three of the major ones, there are quite a few such friction points, all of which collectively make it a burden to go and vote on any given day.

Read More: Voter Mobilization: 7 Key Strategies For A High Voter Turnout

 How to reduce voter apathy and increase engagement

While it is hard to increase voter turnout – since that is directly related to voter apathy – these problems can be partly overcome through the melding of technology and outreach efforts at the organizational or campaign level. Here are some ideas – 

Reach out to increase transparency

A key aspect of voter apathy is the belief that one’s vote does not count and will not make a difference even if one elects the government one believes in. 

Both of these can be directly addressed through increased voter awareness campaigns. These can be email campaigns, text broadcasts, or calling campaigns

Even better, a peer-to-peer texting campaign, for example, where voters are asked to share why they feel the government does not work for them, along with an honest (and realistic) conversation about how the candidate plans to implement the policies that matter to the voter, would reduce voter apathy.

A study has found that getting a message from a friend to go vote boosted voting by a whopping 8% in 2020. This is a great use of relational organizing – which has a powerful effect on the results. 

Calling campaigns especially have come into the spotlight after COVID-19, when campaigns could rarely go door-to-door. And years later, studies have found that a calling campaign was just as effective as GOTV in boosting voter turnout. 

There should be less effort to explain why the opponent or candidate is ‘bad’ and more effort to prove how every vote counts and the real changes electing a preferred candidate can make. 

Reminders to vote, information for reduction of friction

Text reminders to vote, messages that inform people where to go and vote, the timing of their booths, and information about the kind of ID they need to vote may help boost voter turnout by reducing the apathy towards remembering all these details before voting. 

And this works at any level. A great story to prove is how liberal college students ensured a liberal judge was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

Among other efforts, election day saw little slips of paper being placed on every college desk. The note reminded students to vote and informed them where they could cast their vote, depending on where their dorm was, what ID they needed, and how to register to vote. 

All of this ensured the liberal candidate swept the election – one that many students didn’t even know existed a few months prior to voting. 

So, efforts to reach out will make a difference if you help inform the voter and reduce friction to voting. 

Structural changes by the government

From the structural and government perspective, voter apathy can be directly addressed by a few urgent policy changes: 

  • Reduce barriers to voting by increasing the funding and organization of elections at a federal level for all elections, especially increasing the number of booths.
  • Increase opportunities for early, mail-in, and absentee voting to ensure more people can vote.
  • Run constant civic awareness campaigns about the importance of voting and where and how to vote.

Overall, voter apathy is a complex phenomenon influenced by a combination of personal, social, and structural factors. Addressing it requires increasing civic education, improving voting access, and fostering greater trust and accountability in the political system.

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