According to this article wealthy Americans' vote turnout is significantly higher than that of lower income ones:

Socio-economic status: Wealthy Americans vote at much higher rates than those of lower socio-economic status. During the 2008 presidential election, only 41% of eligible voters making less than $15,000 a year voted, compared to 78% of those making $150,000 a year or more. Studies have shown that this difference in turnout affects public policy: politicians are more likely to respond to the desires of their wealthy constituents than of their poorer constituents, in part because more of their wealthy constituents vote.

This is somewhat counter-intuitive, as one should expect people with lower incomes to vote against the current administration. E.g. In France's latest elections, in the first round (source):

"The polls last week ago showed that around 24% of people didn't want to vote, and the week before it was 30%.

"So people have decided to vote at the last minute, young people and low-paid workers who are angry about unemployment and wanted to vote against the incumbent. Traditionally the older people and middle class vote anyway."

Question: Why don't poor people vote in the United States?

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    Is this specific to the US? I think the poor everywhere vote to a lesser extent. Commented May 31, 2017 at 9:37
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    Another way to look at this isn't from an income level, but from the age level. An 18 year old tends to make less than a 25 year old which tends to make less than a 40 year old which tends to make less than a 50 year old, etc....
    – A Lombardo
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 13:14
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    Actually, studies have shown that politicians only respond to their donors, who are disproportionately very rich, not the people who vote for them as opposed to the people who stay home. Voting is just a way to legitimize the decisions made between donors and politicians. That s why poor people do not vote as much, none of the options at the ballot box represent them. represent.us/action/no-the-problem
    – J Doe
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 20:22
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    Be careful what you wish for. In the US the poor vote for the Democratic party which is usually associated with educated and progressive individuals. But in a country like the UK it's often the opposite with the poorest voting for UKIP and Brexit. You might not like the outcome of 100% of the population coming out to the ballot. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 19:42
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    @JonathanReez Regardless of what result one might like, 100% voter turnout is a theoretical goal of any democracy. Only then the will of all people is followed/accounted for. And if it is UJKIP and Brexit, so be it… That's the way democracy works. See this question e.g..
    – rugk
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 20:46

4 Answers 4


They are several reasons at play as to why poor people don't vote.

Voter ID laws and registering to vote

The Government Accountability Office found in this report, that in most state it costs between $5 - $60 to obtain a vote ID, alternate ID like a passport or driving license also cost money to obtain, and people who don't travel or don't drive may not have needed either before. This may not seem like a huge amount of money but when you're on the breadline every dollar counts.

Also another factor is that poorer people are more likely to move home than wealthier people, and that moving home can jeopardize voter eligibility as you have another layer of red tape and paperwork before you can get to the polling station, an MIT study estimated that 1.2 million votes were lost in 2012 due to registration problems alone.

Elections are held on working days

A lot of poor people are paid by the hour, and if the election is being held on a working day (like in America) you simply can't afford to take the day off. In the 2014 US mid-term elections, a report commissioned by the Pew Research Centre found that 35% of people who didn't vote did so because of scheduling conflicts with work/school. Countries where voting is held on a week-end or public holiday like Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, and Italy typically have higher voter turnouts.

A sub-category of this is long lines: in 2016, people sometimes had to wait for hours to cast their ballot. For someone who is losing money for every minute they spend in a line to cast their ballot, having to spend several hours is unappealing at best.

Education, education and education (and apathy)

Poor people don't have the time to read thousands of pages of news/policies and they don't spend their luncheon reading the Economist. As your article says, policies tend to be tailored towards wealthier constituents, so poorer voters may have difficulty understanding some of the more complex or technical terms used in the political discourse. Another article which claims this is here; poor people don't feel represented so they don't vote. A very blatant example of this was the 2016 Presidential Election where both the major candidates of political parties (Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump) were multi-millionaires/billionaires who had extremely good educations (Yale/Wharton School of Business); these education institutions are often inaccessible to the poor. In fact, almost every single president of the US has at least been some form of millionaire.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 12:47
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    Regarding the second point (elections are held on work days): Data from the US would be interesting. For over a decade, Oregon has held elections by mail. Are there statistics that show that this has led to increased turnaround among low-income voters? Likewise, the state of California makes it easy for voters to become permanent by-mail voters (this is actively encouraged in Santa Clara County, where I live; in the last election the mail-in ballot even came with a postage-paid return envelope). Are there statistics that show that this has lead to increased turnout among low-income voters?
    – njuffa
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 1:44
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    I think another important part of this answer should be the fact that it’s much more difficult to vote with less resources in some areas of the country. There have been a number of documented places which have reduced the number of polling locations or even eliminated them in cities. This results in huge lines and a requirement to commit a large amount of time simply to vote.
    – Viktor
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 22:33
  • In California at least employers are required to give employees like 2 hours to vote. I think it's paid. Though some people may not be aware of this or otherwise feel like they would be punished or effectively punished (missed opportunities while gone, say) anyway. Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 18:10

tl;dr- People who made less than $15,000/yr were 30% less likely to vote because a significant portion of that segment of the population was disaffected. Disaffected people tend to lack an interest in both finance and politics, as shown by Pew Research studies cited below.

Update: Added a significant part to the start of this answer to clarify the question. The big point here is that less than 1-in-5 low-income Americans didn't vote compared to the average American. This answer explains that disaffect is the primary cause for these less-than-1-in-5 (~18.5%).

Clarifying the question, Part 1: Only 30% less likely to vote

This question's source gets its information from a graph in this report:

image description

Here, we can see that:

  • 41.3% of Americans who made less than $10,000/yr voted.

  • 41.2% of Americans who made $10,000/yr-to-$15,000/yr voted.

  • 59.7% of Americans voted.

This means Americans who earned no/little money were about 30% less likely to vote than the average American (41.25%/59.7%=~69.1%).

Clarifying the question, Part 2: We're talking about 1/3 of the non-voting low-income Americans

If low-income Americans voted as much as the average American, then only about 59.7% of them would've voted, compared to the 41.25% that did.

So, whatever's causing their reduced voting rates, it's impacting only about 18.5% of low-income earners (59.7%-41.25%=~18.45%).

Clarifying the question, Part 3: Low-income Americans are a diverse group

Low-income Americans include pretty much everyone who's unemployed or works very few hours. However, it can also include college students, entrepreneurs working on a startup, and people in prison (I'd assume - haven't checked the data collection methodology).

So, we're talking about low-income earners rather than people who're necessarily "poor".

Bystanders, Disaffecteds, and Hard-Pressed Skeptics

Studies have shown that significant portions of the population are disaffected. They don't tend to make much money, and they're generally not too interested in politics. The central point of this answer is that they're a large enough group to explain much of the small disparity in voting rates between low-income earners and the average American.

Back in 2005, Pew Research published "Beyond Red vs. Blue", in which they attempted to use data mining techniques to group Americans into more robust subsets than conservatives (Red) vs. liberals (Blue). This study found two relevant groups: "Bystanders" and "Disaffecteds".

The study's since been repeated, most recently in 2014. The groups are recalculated each time; this time, the relevant groups are called "Bystanders" and "Hard-Pressed Skeptics". You can check out their characteristics under "Learn About Types" here.

As can be seen under "Demographics", Bystanders have the least income across all groups. They're pretty much defined by the fact that none of them (0%, according to Pew Research) are even sure that they're registered to vote. They just don't care about politics.

Hard-Pressed Skeptics are similar, though not as extreme. They make the second lowest income across all groups (after Bystanders) and have the second lowest voting turnout (again, after Bystanders). As the group's name suggests, they lead hard lives and have skeptical (cynical) outlooks.


Bystanders are on the sidelines of the political process, either by choice or because they are ineligible to vote. None are currently registered to vote. Most follow government and public affairs only now and then (32%) or hardly at all (32%).

  • Bystanders express relatively low interest in business and finance and, not surprisingly, government and politics.

-Pew Research (2014)

Hard-Pressed Skeptics

Deeply financially-stressed and distrustful of government, Hard-Pressed Skeptics lean toward the Democratic Party but have reservations about both political parties. They want government to do more to solve problems, but have doubts about its efficiency. Hard-Pressed Skeptics are dissatisfied with conditions in the country and their communities. They are among the most cynical about the ability of individuals to improve their lot through hard work. These attitudes may reflect their distressed financial conditions: Hard-Pressed Skeptics have the lowest family incomes of any of the typology groups.

  • Just 39% of Hard-Pressed Skeptics say they are interested in government and politics, the lowest percentage of any typology group.

  • Only about a third of Hard-Pressed Skeptics (32%) say they work-full-time.

-Pew Research (2014)

Not work-scheduling problems

Referring to the above graph that the numbers in the question come from, people who made less than $10,000/yr had the same voting rate as people who made $10,000-$15,000/yr. Minimum wage laws mean that no one regularly working full-time or near-full-time can fall into this category.

So while it's true that work schedules can dissuade people from voting, that doesn't help answer this question since people who are unemployed and working very part-time vote the least. Further, this report (2015) shows that people who make more money work more on average. Taken together, this means that there's a positive correlation between hours worked and tenancy to vote.

In short, work schedules aren't why people in this income bracket vote less than others. In reality, it's likely that this demographic's reduced work load offsets their other reasons for not going to the polls.


This issue's fairly sad because it largely observes that a significant portion of the population's given up. This is a harder issue to fix than other proposals like limited access to the polls or work conflicts.

This answer focuses on disaffect as that seems to be the primary factor that explains most of the disparity in voting rates. However, there are other factors that contribute. For example, sampablokuper's answer correctly points out that voter suppression happens. While I'd argue that it's a minor effect, it's still part of the overall picture. Another factor might be access to personal transportation.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented May 31, 2017 at 14:40
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    less then 1 in 5 didn't vote means that 80% of people voted, seems pretty high turnout to me. That or someone wasn't watching his double negatives ;)
    – dsollen
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 17:09
  • @dsollen Less than 1-in-5, compared to the average American. The math's given below - but, yeah, you're right, 80% turnout would've been high!
    – Nat
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 17:11
  • On the other hand, the poorest cohort votes at about half the rate of the richest. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:02
  • What do you mean by "The big point here is that less than 1-in-5 low-income Americans didn't vote compared to the average American"? (I notice dsollen also pointed out this confusing sentence)
    – hkBst
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 10:45

One factor among many is voter suppression: the adoption of policies designed to inhibit the exercise of the franchise among likely political opponents, such as the poor.

Voter suppression is a known, long-standing anti-democratic problem in US politics, and disproportionately affects poor people. Some accounts:

The last of these pieces relates to the Trump election campaign, and notes:

Cambridge Analytica worked on campaigns in several key states for a Republican political action committee. Its key objective, according to a memo the Observer has seen, was “voter disengagement” and “to persuade Democrat voters to stay at home”: a profoundly disquieting tactic. It has previously been claimed that suppression tactics were used in the campaign, but this document provides the first actual evidence.

The penultimate piece is about a North Carolina law, authored by Thomas A. Farr c. 2013, that was struck down in 2016 as an unconstitutional effort to suppress votes from African-Americans. The federal court that struck down that law found that in North Carolina:

After years of preclearance and expansion of voting access, by 2013 African American registration and turnout rates had finally reached near-parity with white registration and turnout rates. African Americans were poised to act as a major electoral force. But [in 2013, the Supreme Court] issued Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013), eliminating preclearance obligations... [Republican Party politicians, who had recently re-taken control of the North Carolina General Assembly, then] requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.

[The General Assembly] offered only meager justifications [for this legislation]. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation. ...

Faced with this record, we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the [legislation] with discriminatory intent.

Given that poor people lean strongly Democratic (How Do the 47% Vote?), and the mood in the Republican party that "politics is war" (Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media), it is easy to see why some Republican party politicians stoop to voter suppression.

Additionally, and unsurprisingly given that Russia favored a Trump win over a Clinton one:

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of posts on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its Facebook operations, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Update: as Ben Voigt pointed out below, the pieces above explore at least two different means of voter suppression, both with the same aims: deliberately reducing turnout in particular demographics. These two different means are to make voting either:

  1. ill-affordable to the target demographic, or
  2. psychologically repulsive to the target demographic.

(I would speculate that neither of these means can easily be achieved on a large scale without substantial resources. The former requires access to local, regional, or national government for the passing of laws or ordinances; the latter requires access to media for the dissemination of propaganda, and to psychological profiling tools and data in order to hone that propaganda.)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented May 31, 2017 at 3:52
  • Anyone thinking of down-voting this answer: please do first read the conversation that was moved to chat (see link in comment above). That discussion may well address your concerns. Thanks :)
    – user4396
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 20:50
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    @sampabolkuper your question should be able to stand on it's own, and not rely on supplementary comments Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 21:00
  • @SamIam, I think it does; but evidently, not everyone agrees ;)
    – user4396
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 4:02
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    This answer needs a credible source that says that this is a statistically significant issue. A lot of the things that are claimed as attempts at suppression are intended only to suppress fraudulent votes. Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 18:42

My direct answer is: I don't know. I'm not poor.

However, to address the agenda piggybacks going on...

41% turnout is being attributed to the fallout from voter ID laws. So, what percentage of poor people don't have a valid ID? It is very tough to get exact figures. The closest I could find was this Eric Holder remark:

percentage of blacks with driver's licenses

Holder said back in 2012, that 25% of blacks don't have a driver's license.

Another study indicated that 10% of eligible voters didn't have a driver's license or other form of ID. No differentiation between poor and rich, but one can assume that poor people made up a much higher percentage than even average income people, almost all of whom have driver's licenses.

The ID divide

Still, it's hard to say that 60% of poor people don't vote because they don't have an ID - you must have some form of ID to get government assistance.

What surprised me is how a casual search for 'poor people ID percentage' turned up no actual studies to quantify how many poor people can't identify themselves at the voting booth, so I have to wonder what the argument that voter ID is responsible for low poor people voting is based on. If any such studies have actually been carried out, they should leap to the top on a google search.

In an anecdotal reference, the township of Ferguson, that spawned the 'unarmed black man shot by police' meme, was 60% black, yet at the time of that incident, the city council was all white. Since then, the residents of Ferguson took an interest in their city council elections, and started electing black people.

From that, it appears that the residents of Ferguson, a somewhat poor community, could vote, they just didn't vote... until they got a wake up call.

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    In my state assistance programs generally require many of the same documents as getting an ID or voting, but they are separate processes.
    – user9389
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 18:31
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    This is 100% wrong assumption. Poor people all have government assistance, which you have to show an ID to get. Whereas, someone middle class in a large city can get by without an ID if they (like majority of city residents) don't drive and don't fly somewhere. So if anyone is in 10% it's likely not the poor
    – user4012
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 18:59
  • Re "I'm not poor": not relevant unless being poor made one more likely to know the answer.
    – agc
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 9:22

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