Thus far the debate about “missing voters” has been based largely on exit poll and Census Bureau estimates of the size and turnout rates of different racial groups in 2008 and 2012. However, the exit poll by definition has no information on these missing voters. And the Census Bureau surveys, while they do cover non-voters, include no questions on the political attitudes of either voters or non-voters. As a consequence, neither data source allows us to compare the characteristics and attitudes of three key groups: returning voters, dropouts and new voters.
Fortunately, there is another data set that does include questions on the political attitudes of voters and non-voters alike, which does allow us to compare the characteristics and attitudes of returning voters, dropouts and new voters—the 2012 American National Election Study.
The ANES is the longest-running and most widely respected academic survey of the American electorate. It has been conducted in every presidential election year and most midterm election years since 1948. The 2012 survey is notable for its addition of an Internet-based component and for its very large sample size. Almost 5500 eligible voters were surveyed before and after the election. Alan Abramowitz and I analyzed these data and let the missing white voters talk back. Our findings are reported in full today over at Sabato’s Crystal Ball but here is a taste of our findings:
1. Missing or dropout voters were significantly less white than returning voters. This is consistent with our earlier critique of Sean Trende’s “missing white voters” theory. The reason that the white share of the electorate decreased in 2012 was not that whites made up a disproportionate share of dropouts. Even the Census data, which are most favorable to Trende’s case, indicate that less than a fifth of the white share decrease can be accounted for by disproportionate white dropouts; the exit polls and the ANES data we have just analyzed indicate far less.
2. Missing white voters were less Republican than returning white voters. While white dropouts in 2012 did prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama, they did so by a smaller margin than returning white voters. In the pre-election ANES survey, Romney led Obama by 53 percent to 41 percent among white dropouts but by 55 percent to 40 percent among returning whites.
3. Missing white voters, more than missing nonwhite voters, fit the classic profile of hard-to-mobilize, politically disengaged citizens. Nonwhite dropouts expressed a higher level of interest in the 2012 presidential campaign than white dropouts and a considerably higher level of attention to politics and elections in general. And nonwhite dropouts were just as likely to know the location of their polling place and just as likely to be registered to vote at their current address. Based on these results, the expectation that white dropouts could be turned out at a substantially higher rate than nonwhite dropouts in 2016 appears to be very unrealistic.
Please visit Sabato’s Crystal Ball for more secrets of the missing white voters. At last the story can be told!