Low-income Americans are less likely to vote in national elections — yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

Reverend Dr. William Barber II is a co-chair of the The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The movement is dedicated to building power among the 140 million poor and low-income people in America. Credit: Screenshot, YouTube.

Voters from low-income backgrounds are consistently less likely to vote in national elections compared to those with higher incomes, a new study shows — a potential harbinger as the 2020 presidential election looms in swing states such as Florida.

Why don’t low-income voters go to the polls?

President Donald Trump at 2019 State of the Union, with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence in the background. Photo, Wikimedia Commons.

In 2016, when Donald Trump won the presidency, “The most common reason that low-income individuals did not vote in 2016 was that they did not strongly identify with the candidate or campaign issues,” according to the study titled: “Unleashing the Power of Poor and Low-Income Americans: Changing the Political Landscape.”

That reason was closely followed by “disinterest or not believing their vote would make a difference.”

The study was written by Robert Paul Hartley, an assistant professor of social work at Columbia University and a faculty affiliate at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy and the Columbia Population Research Center.

The study was released Tuesday by The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. It’s a movement dedicated to changing the narrative and national discourse on poverty, with 140 million poor and low-income people in America. The campaign is co-chaired by national leaders Reverend Dr. William Barber II and Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis.

The study stressed the importance of reaching eligible low-income voters, who could have an impact on both the 16 U.S. Senate elections and the presidential election.

“Low-income voters will mobilize and vote when their issues are in clear focus and they are able to hold policy makers accountable,” the study says.

The study also examined the 2016 elections and found that issues surrounding the poor in America such as “health care, jobs, wages, housing, food, water and more” have an impact on everyone.

“Yet, in the lead up to the 2016 elections and for most of the 2020 primary season, there were more than 3 dozen debates without one single hour of these debates focused on poverty or the issues facing these millions of people,” the study says.

“If the eligible population of low-income voters showed up at rates similar to higher-income voters, then as many as 15 states could have changed outcomes in the last presidential election.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Poor People’s Campaign held a video news conference, blasting Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Congress for “causing misery, meanness and mayhem for our people and nation.”

The organization encouraged people to call the offices of McConnell “to demand a full and just relief package,” to protect low-wage workers, teachers and children during the global pandemic.

“McConnell is at the center of all of this misery, this mayhem…McConnell is sitting on bills that would have provided living wages, universal health care, long before now,” Barber said in the news conference.

“We want you to call everyone you know, text everybody you know, tweet everyone you know. We are focused hard on McConnell, we can’t let him off y’all…if we really want to deal with these issues, we have to recognize what McConnell has done,” Barber added.

The Poor People’s Campaign earlier released a document, in 2018, called the “Moral Agenda and Declaration of Fundamental Rights,” which addresses key issues among poor people in the country, including systemic racism, poverty, and militarism.

In 2020, the campaign created “fact sheets” for each state.

Florida’s fact sheet shows myriad issues facing the state in numerous areas, from systemic racism to ecology and health.

For example, the fact sheet cited that “more than 1.6 million residents cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement,” including thousands of Black people,  and “Black residents of Florida are incarcerated at over 3 times the rate of white residents.”

(Though Floridans voted in 2018 in favor of felon voting rights, the problems are still not resolved following court cases and other issues.)

The fact sheet relating to health shows that 2.7 million people in Florida are uninsured as of 2018. As to poverty, 47% of people in Florida are poor or low-income—a total of 9.8 million residents, according to the fact sheet.

The new study released Tuesday cited “an ongoing history of voter suppression evidenced by poll closings, registration purges, and racial gerrymandering” that harm low-income people and families.

In conclusion, the Tuesday study said:

A polling place in Leon County looked a little lonely during precinct voting in Florida’s presidential preference primary on March 17, 2020. Credit: Issac Morgan

“The political landscape might not change overnight if greater percentages of low-income voters show up, however, this is a large potential voting group that does not receive the most attention from candidates. Campaign policy proposals are typically targeted toward the middle class…”

And, “Even though individuals report one reason for not voting, it does not mean that there are no other reasons that also matter. Ultimately, it is true that low-income Americans are less likely to vote, yet it does not have to be that way. For a more representative democratic election…the low-income electorate may offer a new focus for organization, mobilization, and campaign debate in the years going forward.”