New report says poor and low-income Americans can change the nation’s political landscape

New report says poor and low-income Americans can change the nation’s political landscape

Bishop William Barber II is a co-chair of the The Poor People’s Campaign. (Photo: Screenshot, Repairers of the Breach)

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 North Carolina.

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

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 a new study entitled “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 North Carolina’s Bishop 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.”

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 new report was not the first from the Poor People’s Campaign in which it sought to document and call attention to the plight of the poor in modern America. The organization 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.

North Carolina’s fact sheet shows myriad issues facing the state in numerous areas, from poverty and systemic racism to lack of access to health care and “militarism and the war economy.”

For example, the fact sheet cited the fact that that “44% of people in North Carolina are poor or low-income—a total of 4.6 million residents” and that “more than 91,000 residents cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement, including over 42,000 Black people (3% of the Black population in North Carolina).”

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:

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.”

Issac Morgan is a reporter for the Florida Phoenix, which first published this story and to which Rob Schofield also contributed.