Understanding Unregistered Voters

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New Pew research found that unregistered people are:

  • less interested in politics.
  • less engaged in civic activities.
  • more cynical about their ability to understand and influence government.
  • are like people who are registered but rarely vote.

On the bright side, the unregistered population is:

  • not entirely unengaged from civic life.
  • some indicated that they would register.
  • 40+ percent of the unregistered cared who would win the 2016 presidential election.
  • some indicated that they could be motivated to register in the future.

“These findings suggest that opportunities exist to engage segments of the unregistered population, including through consistent outreach at motor vehicle agencies as required under the Motor Voter law and public education campaigns,” Pew reported. Less than 20 percent of the unregistered has been asked to register by a state agency.

The survey by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that among unregistered voters, in the months before the 2016 presidential election:

  • less than 20 percent of eligible citizens have been offered the chance to register at a motor vehicle or other government agency.
  • the unregistered were more likely to say they do not vote because they dislike politics or believe voting will not make a difference.
  • at least 13 percent of the unregistered, generally those who are younger and more civically engaged, say they could be motivated to register in the future.

21.4 percent are unregistered


More than 21.4 percent of Americans were not registered to vote in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This has spurred several major reforms intended to increase voter registration. Most notably, the Motor Voter provision (the federal government’s National Voter Registration Act of 1993) requires that states allow eligible citizens to register to vote when completing other transactions at state motor vehicle and social services agencies.

More than 60 percent of adult citizens have never been asked to register to vote, and the rate was nearly identical among individuals who are and are not registered.

The unregistered are more likely to indicate a broad distaste for the electoral system than registered individuals, who tend to give election-specific motives for nonvoting, such as disliking the candidates or not knowing enough about the issues. Forty percent of the unregistered say their aversion to politics is a major reason they don’t want to vote, and 35 percent say voting has little to do with the way real decisions are made, compared with 20 and 19 percent of registered but infrequent voters, respectively.

The unregistered have little interest in current events or politics. Yet, see below:

These groups expressed far less interest in the outcome of congressional races and presidential primaries.

However frequent voters care about the winner of all three types of elections at very high rates.

Although some of the unregistered may care who governs, many of these respondents still were not interested in participating in choosing the president.

When asked if voting could influence the way the government is run, the unregistered and rare or nonvoters both tended to say it does not, which very clearly diverged from more frequent voters, who largely said voting does affect governance.

The chart below has good news:

Posted in Learning the Issues.